Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders delayed launching a year-round schedule for First Ward Creative Arts Academy Tuesday, with Superintendent Heath Morrison saying the district hasnt done enough to get family buy-in and explain a complex plan.
Officials also raised the prospect of turning Mountain Island Elementary into a neighborhood K-8 school and adding a high-tech magnet at nearby Coulwood Middle, possibly as early as 2013-14. And Morrison said he has his staff working on a better process for neighborhoods that want their school boundaries changed.
Such decisions about student assignment are one of the touchiest topics in public education. Morrison, a little over three months into his tenure as superintendent, won praise from board members for his efforts to chart a path that might avert public anger.
Im sure the parents feel a sense of being heard, said board member Joyce Waddell, who attended a Monday night parent meeting at First Ward, where parents complained current leaders had not explained whether a complicated merger decision made two years ago made sense today.
But tough decisions remain ahead, some of which must be made in the next few weeks to shape the plans for 2013-14.
Greenlight First Ward?
Going into Tuesdays meeting, the agenda called for the board to launch a complex transformation of University Park and First Ward elementaries that had been approved two years ago, under different leadership. If members had approved a year-round calendar Tuesday, families would have been asked to start selecting their preferences from among four staggered schedules designed to squeeze students from two arts magnets into one uptown building.
The plan to close University Park and merge it into First Ward on the year-round schedule was approved in fall 2010, amid a flurry of controversial closings, mergers and other changes.
The multi-track year-round schedule is so complex that then-Superintendent Peter Gorman allowed an extra year to put it in place. After Gorman left, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh added another year to the planning time, with the launch in 2013-14.
CMS staff members have met regularly with parents for the last two years to talk about making the schedule work. With students and teachers rotating in and out, teachers would have to trade off classrooms. Bus drivers would have to revamp their routes every few weeks.
At Mondays meeting, zone superintendent Tyler Ream talked about doubling up on arts performances so students who are on break wouldnt be left out. On some days, he said, all four groups would need to be present to make the calendar work. That would mean one-quarter of the students would be bused to school, then taken off-site for arts activities, then returned to school and bused home.
PTA leaders argued that CMS leaders should slow down and re-examine the big picture. The complexities and costs of the staggered schedule may no longer make sense, they said.
Two years ago the budget was different, the economy was different, First Ward PTA officer Maria Lamb said. We have been given information that this is going to cost more. When is someone going to sit down and give us a good explanation?
Morrison and the board agreed to do that, pulling the calendar vote off the agenda. Morrison, who had multi-track year-round schools in his previous school district, said hell decide whether he can endorse the First Ward plan by mid-November and move ahead for 2013-14.
Competing with charters
Morrison and Scott McCully, the CMS administrator in charge of student assignment, said Mountain Island Elementary and Coulwood Middle in northwest Charlotte are losing students to Mountain Island Charter School, across the line in Gaston County. McCully said school leaders at the elementary school have expressed an interest in adding grades six to eight to expand the school and compete.
To offset the loss from Coulwood, CMS is considering adding a high-tech magnet, with themes such as aeronautics or robotics.
This is an idea at this point, rather than a concrete proposal, McCully told the board. He said afterward that Morrison hasnt decided whether to push for a mid-November vote for 2013-14 or wait a year.
The board requires assignment decisions to be made by Nov. 15 so parents can be informed in time for the January magnet lottery.
During public comments, residents of the southeast Charlotte Crown Colony neighborhood asked the board to reassign their neighborhood from Lansdowne Elementary, McClintock Middle and East Mecklenburg High to Elizabeth Lane Elementary, South Charlotte Middle and Providence High. They said the latter schools are closer and more convenient.
Morrison said he has his staff are working on a clear process for weighing the merits of such requests, which should be available in a few months.
Tom Tate, the boards longest-serving member, said hes glad to hear that. I think its just caused frustration for a lot of people, he said. Im glad were going to have a process in place so that everybody can understand how it works.