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CMS unveils Beacon Initiative with University of Virginia at 14 schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is planning to bring in the University of Virginia to help turn around 14 of its most consistently underperforming schools.

Superintendent Heath Morrison and chief school performance officer Kelly Gwaltney laid out their plans for the project, known as the Beacon Initiative, to the school board Tuesday evening.

The district will spend the next year assessing the root causes of problems at each school and what they need.

“Sometimes in the haste of turning (a school) around, you might see a short bump of improvement, but before you know it, it’s gone right back where it was before,” Morrison said. “We are now looking at sustainable turnaround.”

The contract with the university has yet to be finalized. The plan is to begin school assessments in September and to have plans ready in January to include in next year’s budget.

The initiative is the latest in a string of projects that have aimed to improve the fortunes of Charlotte’s most troubled schools.

Currently underway is Project LIFT, a five-year, $55 million public-private partnership supporting West Charlotte High and its feeder schools. Two of the schools on the Beacon list are a part of Project LIFT. Morrison said Beacon would not supplant what Project LIFT is doing.

CMS leaders said this initiative is different because of how individualized to each school it will be. Several school board members noted that schools on the Beacon list have been the focus of projects for years.

“These seem to be the same schools that we’ve concentrated on year after year. At some point we have to get it right,” board member Joyce Waddell said. “I hope whatever we do this time, we’ll do it and get it right.”

The elementary schools involved are Briarwood, Albemarle Road, Nations Ford and Winterfield.

The K-8 schools are Druid Hills, Bruns, Reid Park and Westerly Hills. The middle schools are James Martin, Whitewater and Martin Luther King Jr.

The high schools are Harding, Garinger and Vance.

Supporting sales tax

The school board also voted 8-1 to formally support a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Mecklenburg County that would largely go to boost the salaries of CMS teachers and staff.

Chairwoman Mary McCray said she was unhappy that the school board was not consulted before county commissioners put the measure on the ballot. But she called it a “courageous” move that will help the district attract teachers.

Only board member Rhonda Lennon opposed the measure.

She said commissioners should have used money already in their budget to pay for teacher raises. She said taxes are already too high.

Dunn: 704-358-5235; Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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