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Tips for checking out CMS, charter schools

Here are some resources and tips for families exploring school options.

School data

• Check 2013 performance on state exams, as well as graduation rates and average SAT scores for high schools, for CMS and Mecklenburg charter schools at www.charlotteobserver.com/education.

• Get details about Charlotte-area charter schools at www.mecked.org/index.php/get-engaged/resources/local-charter-schools/.

• North Carolina school report cards provide data about academic performance, safety and discipline, teacher turnover and per-pupil spending at all public schools, including charters. Current listings are outdated; the reports will be updated with 2012-13 data on Jan. 28: www.ncreportcards.org.

Visits

• Check school websites for open houses and information sessions. That’s a good starting point to see whether the philosophy and offerings match your needs.

• For existing schools, follow up with a visit during school hours. Observe the kind of class your child would attend.

• If you have concerns about crowding or discipline, try to be there at lunch and/or dismissal.

New schools

• Make sure you understand the founders’ vision and how they’ll execute it. Ask questions to get past jargon, and explore enough other schools to understand what’s unique. For instance, almost all schools say they’re preparing students for college; find out what that means.

• Find out whether the principal or school director has been hired and meet that person.

• Have a clear picture of what remains to be decided. If a school doesn’t yet have a site or leadership, are you getting candid answers about next steps and contingency plans?

CMS magnets

• Many magnets have admission requirements, which means a student may get a seat in the lottery but be unable to attend if test scores, grades or other measures fall short at the end of this year.

• Magnet transportation can be complicated. Busing may be offered only within certain CMS “transportation zones,” and some magnets require parents to drop off and pick up students from shuttle stops.

• Check feeder patterns; many magnets offer guaranteed seats in specific programs as students advance to middle or high school.

• Lottery results from previous years may give some idea of your child’s chances of getting in, though the introduction of new options may change the trends.

• Get more information at www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/ci/MagnetPrograms.

Charters

• Charter schools have more flexibility in school calendars, hours, percentage of certified teachers and requirements for parents. Make sure you understand what’s being offered and what’s expected.

• Charters are not required to offer busing, have cafeterias or participate in the federal lunch subsidy program. However, they must ensure that any student who gets in is not denied access for lack of transportation or a family’s inability to provide lunch. Ask about options.

• Ask about affiliation and support. Some charters are part of national chains or statewide networks, while others have patterned their programs on nearby charter schools.

• Students with disabilities cannot be excluded from charters, and the schools are required to accommodate those students’ plans for educational support.

• Charters are subject to state open meetings and public records laws. You can attend board meetings and request data; be wary if a school balks at access.

• Detailed plans for new and recently opened charters are spelled out in applications posted at the N.C. Office of Charter Schools website. Go to www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools/ and click “charter applications” at left.

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