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CMS principals urged to unleash technology to transform schools

Hundreds of administrators, teachers and parents packed Hopewell High’s auditorium Thursday for the conclusion of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ two-day “transformation summit” that was part strategy session and part pep rally.

The strategy focused on using technology to reshape the way students learn and schools market themselves. Apple sent 12 people to Charlotte to conduct workshops on redesigning schools to adapt to the way today’s young people must prepare for the workforce and college.

Stephanie Hamilton from Apple’s education strategy group warned against adopting a business model. In business, she said, technology is “all about locking people down, controlling people and keeping them productive.”

“School is about opening minds,” she said. “It’s about creating great thinkers, not shutting them down.”

The pep rally part was about getting educators psyched for the arrival of students Aug. 26, even after a summer legislative session that many have described as demoralizing for supporters of public education.

“We have some challenges, folks, and we know it,” Superintendent Heath Morrison said, pointing out that North Carolina’s teacher pay scale and other statewide changes are making it difficult to recruit.

Before he began his half-hour talk, which included a chant of “CMS! CMS!” and getting everyone up to clap to “Celebrate,” Morrison said building morale is going to be a major focus in coming weeks.

Wednesday’s session was for principals only. Thursday, each school brought its assistant principals plus one parent and one teacher, a crowd of about 650. Morrison urged administrators to think of themselves and central offices as “support staff for our teachers” and to keep finding ways to express teachers’ value.

“Folks,” Morrison said, “ultimately we don’t control our own revenue in CMS. What we do have control over is the culture of our buildings.”

Morrison outlined four characteristics students will need to thrive in a fast-changing workforce.

• They’ll have to think like immigrants, he said, because they’ll have to quickly learn the rules and culture of new workplaces.

• They should see themselves as artisans, he said, and figure out “what is their unique gift that only they can present to the world.”

• They should be “starter-uppers,” Morrison said, because “it’s not about looking for jobs; it’s going to be about creating jobs.”

• And last, he said, students must act like a great waitress who knows all the customers and makes them feel valued. “It’s about helping them sell that gift that will make them globally competitive,” Morrison said.

Principals at all CMS schools will spend the coming year working with faculty, students, families and community partners to design strategies to make their schools appealing. Morrison noted the increase in charter schools and other educational options.

In the past, he said, “public education was a monopoly. The only way a family could exercise any choices was if they moved.” Now, he said, all schools need to think about how families feel about choosing CMS.

“Parents ultimately want to feel like, ‘I’ve sent my child to your school. I’ve done something good.’ ”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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