It's too early to judge this year's closings, mergers and other changes to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the school board Tuesday "we're definitely on the right track."
He presented data on 42 schools that gained or lost students and/or programs this year, but said it's too early to gauge the effect on academics.
"The most important question is, did we do the right thing?" Hattabaugh said. "The short answer is, we don't know yet."
The numbers paint a stark picture of the challenges facing Harding High, which has repeatedly been in the news because of fights, arrests and turmoil.
It shifted from being a small magnet school to a larger school taking neighborhood students from the now-closed Waddell High.
While the enrollment roughly doubled, from about 900 to almost 1,800 students, there are five times as many suspensions this year as last, the report from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools shows. The 967 suspensions at Harding so far this year are more than double the number at Harding and Waddell combined during the same time last year.
Harding also faced the most dramatic changes in other areas. It had the biggest increases in students from low-income homes (from 64 percent to 79 percent), in students with disabilities (from 20 students to 201) and in students who speak English as a second language (from none to 8 percent).
But there were encouraging signs at other schools. Hattabaugh said teacher vacancies averaged 1 percent at the 42 schools, the same as the district average.
"We haven't seen wholesale teacher turnover as a result of these changes, and that's a positive," he said.
Some principals and board members also said fears of putting elementary students into schools with middle and high students have proven unfounded.
At Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership Academy, which became a K-12 magnet school, and Druid Hills Academy, which became a preK-8 neighborhood school, older students are supporting the younger ones, not bullying them, they said.