Parents, teachers tout racial diversity,
1:00 pm
Wed October 14, 2009

Parents, teachers tout racial diversity, socio-economic mix as CMS board studies boundaries

Preserving diversity was a running theme as parents, teachers and students affected by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools latest boundary proposals weighed in at last night's school board meeting.

WFAE's Simone Orendain reports.
Filled-to-capacity school board meetings have become the norm in recent weeks- with just about everyone in the audience wanting a say on the district's plans to redraw boundaries at Myers Park High and Eastover Elementary. About 270 people packed board chambers last night- and another 35 filled an overflow room upstairs.

A significant number of parents in red tee-shirts turned out to oppose one of the proposals to shift 113 Eastover students to their schools. Their children go to Myers Park Traditional and Elizabeth Traditional, which are both full magnet schools, meaning they draw students from across the county. The two schools are near Eastover and the proposal calls for converting them into partial magnets, so they could absorb students from the overcrowded Eastover.

But many parents told the board it would be a threat to the racial and socio-economic mix at their academically successful schools. Elizabeth Traditional parent Tony Scheer passionately opposes the proposal.

"It's a fact of demographics that neighborhood schools are tending toward less diversity in this community," Scheer says. "And I accept that's not particularly important for some folks, that's fine. For my wife and I though, it is. And for every parent at Elizabeth Traditional it certainly is."

Another Elizabeth parent who is white, said before the meeting that she did not want to see her child's school overrun by high-income, white families.

Eastover parent Kristy Farr lives in the part of the attendance zone that's being redrawn and she doesn't want her child to go to either of the magnet schools. She told the board she values neighborhood schools and likes the option that changes nearby Dilworth Elementary, a partial magnet, into a neighborhood school.

She said, "That option has to be one with logical boundary choices. It has to be one that nurtures and supports a sense of community. And it has to be one that's consistent with CMS's philosophy of creating schools that educate children close to their home. It should not be one that moves neighborhoods outside of natural boundaries in order to manage to certain numbers or ratios."

"Managing to certain numbers" is another way to characterize the district's preference for spreading students on free or reduced priced lunch across multiple schools. And this is what drove boundaries for a new high school, which led to the current options for Myers Park high.

A planned new high school in Mint Hill will ease overcrowding at several schools in the eastern part of the county starting next school year. The new school will mean 600 fewer students and more room, at East Mecklenburg High. The board sees the extra space as an opportunity to ease crowding at Myers Park high school.

The district's plan is to move Myers Park's international baccalaureate program to East Meck, which already has one. This is a magnet program that draws students from other schools. But teachers, parents and students from both schools are opposed to the change.

Sonia Scholl's children graduated from Myers Park and she still volunteers at the school. She says her children learned about diversity and tolerance particularly through the Myers Park IB program.

"The IB program is a living organism," says Scholl. "It is a product of years of cooperation among families, volunteers, students and staff. All of these activities that are so beneficial not only to the school but surrounding communities will disappear if you vote to dismantle the Myers Park IB program."

East Meck teachers say their school doesn't even want the additional IB program. They're more concerned about losing a significant number of teachers and having fewer course offerings, that will make the school less attractive to a mixture of students. East Meck teacher Mary Beth Hughes said right now the school's demographics are balanced.

"The variety that exists is dependent on the support of the community. If one group, be it ethnic or socio-economic leaves the school in large numbers East will become a school like several in the system, one where the diversity that gave it strength will be lost," she says.

On the day of the meeting the district posted another possible use for the extra space at East Meck- a math and science program that would draw from schools in the southern half of the county. The public will have a chance to weigh in on this plan in the coming weeks.

The school board is scheduled to vote on these options on November 10th.

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