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CMS to kick off school year with a pep rally

By Steve Lyttle and Ann Doss Helms
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials and business leaders will stage a motivational kickoff to the 2013-14 school year Thursday for CMS employees.

All of the system’s staff members are invited to the CMS Employee Back-to-School Rally at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The rally, which is expected to draw thousands, is the first in recent memory.

Several area companies – Bovis Lend Lease, Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank, Keffer Hyundai, Novant Health, Verizon Wireless and Wells Fargo – are footing the bill, including such door prizes as an HD TV and weekend getaways at uptown hotels.

“Not one penny is being spent of public money,” Superintendent Heath Morrison said Friday.

Morrison said the rally is a first splash in an ongoing quest to build employee morale. This summer brought a pay freeze, cuts in teacher assistant jobs and other legislative actions that many teachers say are discouraging, such as an end to tenure and pay for advanced degrees.

“We are just trying to send that message of how valued our educators are,” he said.

It also showcases Morrison’s recent decision for a beefed-up department to handle partnerships and volunteers.

“Our business community partners have stepped up and come together to provide a time for everyone in the school system to feel appreciated and celebrated as the new school year begins,” said Assistant Superintendent LaTarzja Henry, who is in charge of that program.

Morrison said schools should keep seeing benefits: “We will do a lot to ask partners throughout the year to help with engagement and morale.”

The event, planned from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., will feature a motivational speaker, comments from Morrison and door prizes. CMS is planning to transport many of the employees by school buses, to avoid parking costs and hassles in uptown Charlotte.

Employees are encouraged to wear CMS colors – red, black and white – and bring a food item for Second Harvest Food Bank.

The keynote speaker will be Jeannette Walls, a motivational speaker and writer who formerly worked for MSNBC. Maureen O’Boyle, news anchor at WBTV and a West Charlotte High alumna, will be emcee.

CMS has more than 18,000 employees, but not everyone will squeeze into the arena. Offices will remain open Thursday and a handful of schools are already in session. But the goal is to draw a strong turnout.

As soon as the invitation was emailed Thursday, some employees complained that it will take time away from classroom preparations. Teachers return to work next week to get ready for the Aug. 26 opening day for students. For a number of employees, the rally will be followed by open house programs in the afternoon and evening.

Julie Hubbard, a teacher at Rama Road Elementary, said she’s not eager to “shake a pompom with CMS bigwigs and Sir Purr and hear how awesome CMS is.”

“Here’s a better idea,” she wrote in an email. “Let teachers work in their classrooms. Take all the money that is being spent for this pep rally and split it up among CMS teachers and assistants.”

Morrison said Friday attendance is “totally voluntary.”

“Our community is very supportive of CMS,” Morrison said, “and this will be a terrific start to our school year.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle
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