From creating a special school for African-American males to launching a new nonprofit to raise school money, recommendations from 22 task forces created to advise Superintendent Heath Morrison got their first public airing Monday.
More than 450 people, including teachers, parents, students, business leaders and education advocates, served on the panels that Morrison created last fall as he started as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent.
He said he targeted “areas of strength to build on and areas of concern that we need to address,” ranging from public trust to gifted students and special education. He will use the advice as he and the school board craft a long-term strategic plan.
A two-hour gathering at West Charlotte High on Monday provided a quick overview of each group’s suggestions, with details to be posted on the CMS website Wednesday.
Morrison said the deep public involvement shows concern not just about the district’s 145,000 students and 18,000-plus employees, but “about the health and well-being of our community.”
Many of the presentations were broad, with only 3 1/2 minutes for each leader to speak. But some offered intriguing specifics, including the proposal for an all-male K-12 school targeting black students.
Nick Wharton, who runs a diversity firm and led the group studying African-American males, said Morrison was courageous to single out the challenges of that student group, which trails most others in measures of academic success.
In addition to calling for the new school, his group urged Morrison to recruit a more diverse teaching staff and revise disciplinary policies on “discretionary” offenses.
Suspensions for those offenses, such as insubordination and classroom disruption, often fall most heavily on black males.
Key questions about the suggestions, from what they will cost to whether they would require changes in policy or legislation, remain to be answered. Morrison, his staff and the school board plan to examine all of the plans and list next steps.
Cotrane Penn, a CMS employee who led the cultural competence task force, urged CMS to expand the one-person diversity department to make sure all educators understand cultural differences.
“I want to emphasize that cultural competence is not just about race,” she said. “It’s about issues of class. It’s about issues of gender. It’s about issues of sexuality.”
Expanding staff was a common theme. Various panels called for adding staff for gifted students, family support, community partnerships, CMS-TV and district communications.
Morrison said afterward that finding money for new staff and better technology, another repeated theme, is “certainly going to be part of the challenge.” But he said he won’t request additions without looking for “what do we stop doing” to offset new spending.
Jay Everette of Wells Fargo, whose group studied the CMS Foundation, gave one of the most detailed pitches. Former Superintendent James Pughsley created the foundation to accept donations, but it has since become dormant.
Everette’s group called for the foundation to be reconstituted as an independent nonprofit group “to retain some objectivity,” run by a board that includes community members and at least one teacher and principal. The foundation should raise money for specific efforts tied to CMS goals, he said, such as an innovation fund for teachers or support for teacher development programs.
While much work remains, Morrison and Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark lauded all the volunteers for attending meetings, doing research and holding focus groups. Many plan to continue working on the issues, and called for the creation of additional advisory boards.
“This has been, in my 30 years of employment, the most authentic, genuine, productive engagement that I’ve ever seen in this district,” Clark said.
Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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