More magnets, alternative schools, digital education and career-prep classes are part of Superintendent Heath Morrisons vision for making Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools more successful and competitive.
He announced the plan to about 1,200 invited guests at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in uptown Charlotte Monday.
Morrison said schools cant stick with tradition in a world thats changing so fast and demanding more of graduates. He said hes calling on principals and parents to help create schools that families will choose over private, charter and home schooling.
Parents want a plethora of choices, he said, and we have the opportunity to offer that.
The event marks roughly 100 days since he started the superintendents job in July.
Though CMS is the nations 18th largest district, with about 144,000 students in preK-12, Morrison called for each student to have an individual plan for academic success. He compared it to getting an individual diagnosis and treatment plan from a doctor: Why would we expect any less from our public education system?
His plan calls for beefed-up efforts to reach students who traditionally struggle including African-American males, students learning English and those with disabilities and to deal with low-performing schools. But he said the district must focus equal attention on reaching high-fliers and students in the middle.
With charter schools expanding and private schools plentiful in the Charlotte area, Morrison said in an interview before the event that its essential for CMS to expand its menu, with schools that combine online and in-person learning, offer different hours, work with local colleges and offer special themes such as aerospace and robotics. He said he expects each principal to know how many students his or her school is losing to competitors and craft a plan to make the CMS school a top choice.
Morrison said he wants to keep the current student assignment plan, which assigns all students to a nearby school but offers magnets and other options.
His plan would increase the options, he said, without losing the guarantee of a seat in what he calls local schools.
Ive always believed that choices are good, he said. Its competition, but its good competition. Well try to get our market share, but weve got to earn it.
Speed vs. study
The 2013-14 magnet lottery begins in January, so new offerings wont be ready until 2014-15. Morrison said he wants to engage employees and community members in shaping important decisions, including what they want from their schools.
Dozens are being invited to work on 22 task forces focused on issues ranging from gifted students to public trust to family engagement. Membership will be announced in December, and everyone will have a chance to talk with those advisers in town hall meetings that start in January. Their work will help shape the 2013-14 budget.
But not everything can wait, Morrison said.
There is a fierce urgency now, he said. Were going to launch some things right away.
Among the immediate changes: He plans to get more students into Advanced Placement classes and bring consultant Glenn Singleton in to talk to principals and executive staff about the role of race in academic success.
The two are related: Morrison said he has already learned that CMS, like many other districts, has a disproportionate number of nonwhite students whose PSAT scores show theyre ready for college level work but who arent enrolled in the high school classes that offer it.
The talks about race will be difficult, he said, but educators must confront attitudes that may be unintentionally holding students back. Too many organizations take a pass on those conversations, he said. In our school district we will not do that.
Schools and community
Recruiting, developing, rewarding and keeping top teachers and principals is a key point in Morrisons vision.
Most of the points outlined Monday are ones that have been widely discussed, not only by Morrison but by state and national leaders: Improve performance evaluations. Create a better compensation model that rewards talent. Do a better job of recruiting, including people who studied education and those coming from other paths.
Some of the specifics are likely to come from state lawmakers, while others will evolve after Morrison gets the CMS boards approval in December. The goal is to use his vision to revise the districts five-year plan.
Morrison is also calling on community agencies, houses of worship, businesses, higher education and individual to work with CMS to boost literacy, including among adults, and improve early childhood education. As he has before, he pledged to do a better job of helping everyone understand the CMS decision-making process.
Morrisons plan calls for a CMS Pride campaign among employees and an increase in positive CMS news, bolstered by a stronger district Web presence, revival of CMS-TV and better use of social media.
He said before the meeting that changes in CMS image must come from reality, not just marketing. Some schools suffer from an undeserved bad reputation, he said, but others really have problems. Principals and district leaders must understand the difference.
Either fix the misinformation or fix the issue thats causing people to leave, Morrison said.
In his public presentation, Morrison concluded with a call for our community to rally behind Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
There is nothing Charlotte-Mecklenburg cant do when it puts its collective will behind it, he said.
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