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Problems gone (for a day), and CMS employees rally

A summer of discontent turned into cheers and optimism Thursday, when about 8,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees gathered at Time Warner Cable Arena for the system’s first back-to-school pep rally.

Mostly forgotten for a day was the unhappiness generated by sweeping education changes in the legislature, including an end to teacher tenure and pay for advanced degrees.

“It’s been a difficult few months for teachers, but this is a time to celebrate,” said Kim Young, an Ardrey Kell High School French teacher who was on a packed light-rail train headed for the arena Thursday morning.

Young and other teachers returned to the classroom this week, and they’ll be joined by CMS’ 144,000 students Monday morning.

Thursday’s rally was the product of donations from several corporate sponsors, and it turned the lower level of the uptown arena into a blend of colors, as many staff members wore their school colors and sat together. The contingent from McClintock Middle School arrived with painted faces, and Crown Point Elementary’s group had signs.

As employees arrived at the arena, they were greeted by the Harding University High band and organized cheering by groups of CMS staffers.

“I’m excited about this year, and this is a fun way to start,” said Monica Pott, reigning teacher of the year winner at Whitewater Middle School.

“Who doesn’t like a pep rally?” asked Whitewater social studies teacher Linda Scott.

Inside the arena, CMS employees watched performances from the Charlotte Bobcats and Carolina Panthers cheerleaders, heard from Bobcats’ head coach Steve Clifford and Panthers’ community relations director Riley Fields. WBTV news anchor Maureen O’Boyle, a West Charlotte High graduate, was emcee.

There were door prizes, including overnight hotel stays, dinners and gift cards.

Keynote speaker Jeannette Walls, author of a best-selling book about her family’s battle with poverty, told the crowd that “education is the great equalizer. I had teachers who made me feel good about myself.”

Walls encouraged teachers to get past the “coat of armor” that some students use to shield themselves from problems in their lives.

“If you can get behind the statistics, behind the façade, you can meet the person who waits there,” she said.

The final speaker was CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison, who was introduced by his son, Zachary, a student at Northwest School of the Arts.

Morrison referred to Monday as “New Year’s Day” and said “the best New Year’s are when you’re with family. That’s what we’re doing here today. We’re gathering as the CMS family.”

He reminded teachers and other staff members that they’ll need to work hard on a daily basis and that they can’t allow students to slip through the cracks.

Morrison earned some of the day’s biggest cheering, however, when he touched on General Assembly decisions that some teachers contend have damaged the quality of schools in the state.

“What you do matters,” he told the crowd. “We have to convince the people of this state that you are important.”

Morrison said a number of business leaders have told him they “are not happy with what has happened” and will be taking that message to state lawmakers.

“The biggest message they will send is being 48th in teacher salaries will not get it done,” he said, followed by a loud and long cheer.

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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