If you’re a newcomer to Charlotte-area schools, take heart. You’re arriving at such a transitional time that you won’t feel out of place.The move toward a national curriculum is changing what kids learn in class. Lessons are evolving to focus on complex problem-solving, real-life applications and teamwork.North Carolina’s “Race to the Top” program is replacing the standardized tests and school ratings that have been around for 15 years. Pencil-and-paper multiple-choice exams are making way for online testing with more open-ended questions.Technology is transforming schools. Policymakers are grappling with how much to spend and what kind of devices to buy. Principals and teachers are crafting lessons that incorporate video sharing, online research and other ways to connect with the electronic world today’s students inhabit.State lawmakers are weighing in on education reform. New superintendents are making their mark in Mecklenburg and Union counties. Businesses, churches, civic groups and charities are finding new ways to boost student success, from a boom in summer reading programs to the rollout of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Project LIFT, a public-private partnership that will pump more than $50 million into nine struggling schools.In short, the answer to many questions about education is, “We’ll see.”Or, perhaps, “Let’s figure it out together.”This is a community that cares deeply about education. That means fierce debate and, yes, some pretty caustic griping about problems. But it also means there are a lot of individuals and groups seeking solutions. And newcomers are welcome (though you can expect some eye-rolling if you’re too eager to educate long-timers on how you did things back home).A good starting point is to sign up for the weekly newsletters of MeckEd ( www.mecked.org, focused on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) and the Public School Forum of North Carolina ( www.ncforum.org, a statewide perspective). School districts are also using social media and the Internet to keep people up to date. Heath Morrison, the new CMS superintendent, is big on town hall meetings, so keep an eye out for chances to weigh in on issues.Ask around in your neighborhood, workplace or house of worship, and chances are you’ll find more ways to volunteer and get engaged. At the very least, if you’re asking about education, you’ll start a lively conversation.
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
What’s new in our schools? Change
Education primer • School districts in North Carolina generally cover an entire county. South Carolina counties and a handful in North Carolina, including Iredell and Catawba, are broken into smaller districts. • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system (known as CMS) has about 140,000 K-12 students and 159 schools. It serves about 80 percent of Mecklenburg’s school-age children and is the state’s second-largest district (Raleigh is first). • All students are assigned to a public school based on where they live. In CMS those schools are known as neighborhood or home schools. • Magnet schools offer alternatives within local school districts. CMS offers 10 magnet themes, including foreign languages, arts and math/science. Some are separate schools and some are housed in neighborhood schools. Admission is by application and lottery selection. Some magnets have admission requirements. • Charter schools are tuition-free public schools run by independent boards. Like magnets, they tend to offer specialized academic themes or learning methods, and have admission lotteries. Unlike regular public schools, they take students from across county lines and don’t have to offer meals or transportation. • Private schools serve about 25,000 Charlotte-area students, with more than 120 religious and independent schools in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. They range from sliding-scale schools that cater to disadvantaged students to schools where 4-year-olds compete for admission and tuition tops $20,000 a year. • Home schooling is a small but growing movement, with local networks that ensure students have social opportunities and extracurricular activities. • Teacher unions don’t play the role they do in many other states because NorthCarolina public schools don’t allow collective bargaining. • School calendars are fairly standardized throughout North Carolina because state law requires a start date no earlier than Aug. 25 and dismissal by June 10. Year-round schedules are allowed but not common in the Charlotte area.
More information Research schools How to find test scores, graduation rates and other data about individual schools. N.C. public schools • School report cards: http://www.ncreportcards.org/src/ • ABC test-score reports and graduation rates: http://abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs/ Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools • School progress reports: http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/accountability/spr/Pages/SchoolProgressReports.aspx • Data maps: http://www.mecked.org/index.php/education/