Since coming to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in July, I have spent my first 100 days listening and learning. I did not come in with a predetermined plan to improve our district. Instead, I came in with a set of principles, some experience gained in Maryland and Nevada – and an open mind.
To guide my learning process, I chose five areas of focus for my first 100 days. They were: Student achievement; building a collaborative relationship with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education; increasing organizational efficiency to ensure strong support for school; establishing a respectful, positive culture centered on teaching and learning, and building public trust through open, honest communication.
To understand our district and how it is viewed by the community, I visited all of our schools, meeting with students, teachers, support staff and principals. I visited all departments of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I held a series of 13 town hall meetings, inviting participants to tell me what the district does well and what it needs to improve. I also met with hundreds of individuals and small groups – parents, critics, higher education officials, PTAs, organizations who work with us in various ways. I met with dozens of our partners: state and local legislators, community organizations, public and quasi-public agencies that serve children, elected officials from all areas of government and philanthropic agencies and groups.
To gain additional insight, I commissioned four independent consultants. I asked AronsConsulting LLC to audit our human resources department. I asked Drive West Communications to audit our communications department. The Council of the Great City Schools was invited to review the way Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is structured, how operations are managed and decisions are made. I also asked K12Insight to measure employee engagement and morale.
What did I learn?
There is a very clear consensus among stakeholders that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has many strengths but also needs to change. The residents of Mecklenburg County do not want a “good” school district – they want a great one. That desire is shared by the employees of CMS.
We have identified key goals that will help us become a great district.
These goals address academic achievement, effective teaching, community partnerships, organizational culture and cultural proficiency, strengthening educational choice, increasing technology and better communication. All of these areas have emerged during our town hall meetings, our surveys of employees and the community and in meetings with organizations, officials and citizens.
On Nov. 26, I will share a renewal vision for moving CMS from good to great – the specific areas we need to focus on and how we will do this work – at an event marking the end of my first 100 days. (We will also post information about this vision and plans on the district’s website.) It is my hope that this will be an ongoing conversation with all of our stakeholders.
I believe that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is uniquely positioned to move from good to great. There is a strong foundation in place on which to build transformative improvement. There is also a community-wide understanding of the importance of quality public schools, and a substantial willingness to support public education in a variety of ways. Now we must work together to identify how to improve our school district, because there is much work to do.
All of us know that our children will come of age in an era of unprecedented competition for jobs. They will compete against other jobseekers around the world, not only in Charlotte or North Carolina or America. Our children will need to be literate, numerate, innovative, creative, entrepreneurial and technologically adept if they are going to be successful in the workplaces of tomorrow.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is an important part of the economic engine that drives our entire region. How well our students are prepared for post-secondary work directly affects our workforce and our competitive position as a region.
Educating our children is important work – too important for us not to do it well. Making our public schools better won’t only strengthen our democracy and our families. It will help us build a bright future together, for ourselves and for our children. As superintendent of CMS, I look forward to working with everyone in our district to educate every child, every day, for a better tomorrow.