Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools owes the community a report on whether last years school closings saved money and benefitted kids, new Superintendent Heath Morrison said after a Tuesday meeting with the local NAACP branch.
About 40 people including school board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart, board member Joyce Waddell and former board Chairman Arthur Griffin attended the meeting, which was closed to news media. Because the session did not include a majority of board members, it was not required by state law to be open.
Morrison and some who attended the get-together on Morrisons second day of work said it laid a foundation for building relationships.
I think he has a winning spirit to want to work with all the groups in this community, said Kojo Nantambu, president of the local NAACP branch. I really believe he is going to work for the benefit of all students.
Morrison has said rebuilding community trust in CMS is one of the top priorities for his first months on the job. He had promised a series of town-hall meetings around the county.
Nantambu said groups like the NAACP and MeckEd, Mecklenburg ACTS and the Black Political Caucus advocacy groups that had representatives at Tuesdays meeting must work together and get the masses more energized about attending such sessions.
The meeting provided Morrison an early chance to start mending community rifts. The NAACP led protests against his predecessor, Peter Gorman, after decisions to close several majority-black schools and to use the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a snow makeup day. Nantambu has been a frequent speaker at board meetings, sometimes calling CMS leadership racist.
We still have strong feelings about the closings of inner-city schools, community activist Anna Hood said after the meeting. She said Morrison will have to provide specifics, such as whether the closings really saved CMS money, to win trust.
Morrison said he agrees. He said he was there to listen and start a conversation, not to make promises about specific actions, such as reopening schools. But he said it makes sense to report on what was promised and what has been delivered before deciding the next steps.
Ellis-Stewart has also said she expects a report on schools that saw major changes because of closings and mergers. Those include eight pre-K-8 schools created by the closing of three large middle schools, and a new version of Harding High created after Waddell High closed.
The formal meeting with Morrison lasted an hour, and he stayed after to talk personally with people in the audience. Those conversations reflected hope and wariness.
Can you do what you say you can do? asked Maurice Jones, a former CMS teacher who now runs a nonprofit group that promotes career training.
Im going to try, Morrison said.
Gyasi Foluke, an author who frequently speaks to the school board about his views on Afrocentric education, told Morrison he has seen too much of the Houdini syndrome: Superintendents who make big promises, stay long enough to build a reputation, then disappear.
I dont want you to be a victim of the Houdini syndrome, Foluke said. When you succeed, the community succeeds.
As soon as his hiring was announced in April, Morrison started scheduling individual and group meetings around Mecklenburg County, trying to strike a balance of geography and philosophy. Tuesdays NAACP meeting was his first group session since he officially started work Monday. His schedule also includes a Fourth of July visit with Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor.
Despite Nantambus optimism, his comments also show the challenge Morrison will face in balancing competing interests. Nantambu said Gorman lost ground among blacks because he yielded to pressure from more powerful interests.
Morrison cant allow himself to become a puppet or to be manipulated by the pressure of corporate Charlotte, of affluent Charlotte, Nantambu said.