A health-science high school working with uptown hospitals. A robotics magnet in southeast Charlotte. Students in Huntersville preparing to work in and eventually own auto shops, restaurants and hair salons.
Those are some of the visions of public school choice outlined in Superintendent Heath Morrisons 2013-14 budget. Seven new magnets or opt-in programs will open in 2013 or 2014 if Morrison gets the $2 million in choice money hes seeking as part of a $365.9 million request to county commissioners.
Morrison and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members acknowledge that the request for a $28.5 million increase is just a starting point. But the plan unveils a choice strategy that blurs the districts traditional lines between magnet and neighborhood schools.
Magnets, which have long been clustered in Charlotte as a legacy of court-ordered desegregation, will spread to the suburbs to provide more options close to home. Neighborhood schools are being encouraged to develop specialty themes to ensure they can compete.
We want parents and students to feel great about going to their local school, Morrison said Wednesday.
An example: Rama Road Elementary in southeast Charlotte will remain a neighborhood school, but will launch a new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) focus in partnership with Discovery Education, a company that provides digital texts and interactive lessons.
Those students feed into nearby McClintock Middle, which will add the Teach To One computerized math program, with lessons tailored daily to individual students. In January, rising sixth-graders will be able to apply for a robotics magnet at McClintock in 2014 a theme that springs from an award-winning robotics club created by McClintock educators.
Morrison said all principals are working with their parents, faculty and community partners to identify academic strategies that will make their schools stand out. That is going to be our work this summer, he said.
The budget also calls for a new Montessori elementary school, sharing the campus with Long Creek Elementary in Huntersville, and a first-ever Montessori high school in northeast Charlotte. The Montessori method, based on learning through individual exploration, was developed for young children and is popular in CMS elementary magnets, with almost 700 students on waiting lists for the three schools. At parents request, CMS created a Montessori magnet for seventh- and eighth-graders at Sedgefield Middle School in 2010. So far, it hasnt drawn as much interest as the elementaries.
Morrison said adding a high school will strengthen the upper-grades program. Montessori high schools are rare across the country.
Many of the proposed programs focus on preparing teens for college and careers. A digital academy at Cochrane and a health sciences academy at Hawthorne school will offer internships and skills designed to look good on resumes. A small high school on Central Piedmont Community Colleges Levine campus in Matthews will provide up to two years of tuition-free college credits.
North Mecklenburg High in Huntersville, where Morrison held a Wednesday news conference on new options, offers another illustration of blended choice tactics. Its a neighborhood school with an International Baccalaureate magnet and next year, it also will offer programs to prepare students in automotive, culinary and cosmetology fields.
Those programs had been allowed to languish in recent years. Thats a common pattern, Morrison said. The kind of facilities needed for career-tech programs auto shops, salons and kitchens, for instance are expensive, and it can be hard to find teachers who know the job skills and are good at teaching teens.
The new plan is to develop those programs at one school while allowing students from others in this case, Hough, Hopewell and Mallard Creek to opt in. Students on each career track will have math, science and language arts classes that incorporate their themes, and theyll do apprenticeships.
They can become fully licensed cosmetologists right out of high school if they choose, said teacher Melissa Prickett.
While graduates may go straight into the workforce, the programs are designed to prepare them for further education or business ownership.
You will see young professionals that are growing every day, Principal Matt Hayes said.
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