Superintendent Peter Gorman rolled out plans for two new magnet programs Thursday and placated some parents who feared the loss of their children's schools.
But he faced another barrage of school board questions on whether plans to cut magnets are fair to minorities.
Gorman, seven board members and a room full of staff and parents spent six hours discussing the future of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnets, which serve about 18,450 of the district's 134,000 students. CMS leaders have been reviewing magnets since March; the board hopes to vote on a plan in November.
Some parents got relief, as Gorman revised or revoked suggestions the families said would ruin successful schools. Myers Park and Elizabeth traditional schools, which had been pegged for elimination because their academic programs are no longer unique, will go untouched under Gorman's latest plan.
Villa Heights Elementary parents were furious about an earlier plan to close their small magnet for gifted kids and move them into high-poverty Lincoln Heights, where many neighborhood students struggle.
Now Gorman wants to merge the two – at Lincoln Heights – as a full gifted magnet, moving about 200 non-magnet Lincoln Heights students to nearby Druid Hills, which has even higher poverty levels.
For the Villa Heights families, that means their kids, though they would move, would still have a school where all students are there by choice and likely to be strong academically. “That shows they're listening to us,” said parent Donna Lanclos.
Gorman also rolled out some new ideas, such as a magnet with all-girl and all-boy classes. Another would keep kids in school longer, with strong teacher support and rigorous structure, similar to the national Knowledge Is Power Program chain of charter schools.
Board members George Dunlap and Vilma Leake dominated Thursday's discussion. They said the proposals cut options for minority families.
“What are you going to say to convince these parents that, if you go back to your home school, everything's going to be OK?” Dunlap asked.
“Are you going to commit to make that happen?” board member Trent Merchant said.
“Make it happen first,” Dunlap replied. “Then we send them back.”
Gorman acknowledged the dilemma: “All of our kids don't have an opportunity for a great education. We've got to fix that.”
About 2,800 students would lose their current assignments under Gorman's latest plan. Almost 90 percent are minorities.
Leake said CMS should strengthen magnets that aren't working well rather than get rid of them.
“It's been failing, failing, failing,” she said, pounding the table as she talked about J.T. Williams Middle, which is likely to lose its communication arts magnet. “How do we make it a better school?”
Gorman's plan doesn't simplify the magnet system – something he'd said last month was the clearest mandate he'd gotten from the board. He said his latest list is “a stew” he created after individual talks with board members. “They didn't agree to simplify,” he said.
The plan also seems unlikely to cut costs or streamline busing. Gorman would expand the territory of four schools to pull from across the county, which can create one-way bus rides of 20 miles or more.
And he'd expand three elementary magnets to include middle schools, which will require renovations to buildings – and more busing to get students back to their neighborhood schools for sports.
Merchant, who has urged streamlining the system and refocusing on basics, says the new plan doesn't do that. But he praised Gorman for creating something a divided board can work with. “It's different from what I thought originally, but I'm excited,” he said.
Two other proponents of simplifying the system, Kaye McGarry and Larry Gauvreau, were absent Thursday.
Ken Gjertsen saw little progress in his quest to get magnets moved closer to his south suburban constituents.
Gorman proposed a foreign-language magnet at South Mecklenburg High, but other members said that makes no sense when South Meck is crowded and nearby Waddell has hundreds of seats.