Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark discussed successes and challenges facing the school system at the August meeting of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club.
Some meetings in Ballantyne this year between area residents and school officials have been intense, at times with several hundred parents in attendance, with questions about the district’s upcoming student assignment plans.
However, audience questions at the Aug. 20 meeting touched on a range of topics. Most covered larger issues and did not address student reassignment.
The Ballantyne Breakfast Club, which is open to the community, meets about every other month to cover topics of interest to Ballantyne.
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Clark opened the meeting with at PowerPoint presentation that covered topics such as CMS’s focus on college and career readiness, recruiting and retaining teachers and expanding the North Star Reading Partners program, which pairs students with community and school system volunteers to work on reading.
She also discussed time lines for approving changes to the district’s magnet school program, which are now under discussion and set for a vote in November, and for consideration of school boundary lines. Clark said discussion of “high school feeder patterns” would begin in early 2017 with any changes to be implemented in fall 2018.
Rhett Brown, president of Wingate University, also discussed degree programs that Wingate offers at its Ballantyne campus, which enrolls about 500 students, and college tuition costs and student debt.
Audience members asked questions for more than 45 minutes, only stopping because the room was scheduled to be used by another group.
Here are some of the topics addressed.
One person in the audience asked Clark to explain CMS’s magnet school program. Clark described CMS’s early engineering program for high school students at UNC Charlotte, Northwest School of the Arts and dual language programs.
“(They are) really just based on a student’s interests, strengths and areas they want to strengthen,” Clark said.
She pointed out that Montessori magnet schools, some of CMS’s most popular, have hundreds of students on wait lists.
“That’s a signal that if we offered more seats, more people would choose that option,” she said.
In the district’s discussions on how to handle poverty across the district, school board members will talk about “how we think about socioeconomic status,” Clark said. The district is leading efforts to get a handle on concentrations of poverty in schools by “leading with choice” and expanding opportunities for students to attend magnet programs.
Problems at home
Some questions focused on how CMS could work with children who have difficult home lives and parents who aren’t or can’t be involved.
Clark said principals have told her the No. 1 issue they are facing with students is mental health issues.
She said all elementary schools now have a guidance counselor, 92 schools have mental health services for children and families and all schools have a school nurse.
The district also employs 44 social workers, and “we could use 144,” Clark said.
Mary McCray, school board chairwoman who also attended the meeting, stressed that children do better in the classroom when they know an adult cares about their future.
Not all parents can participate in school, some because of work or language barriers. McCray encouraged community members to volunteer and help children.
“If we just give that one hour a week, we can make a difference in the lives of children whose parents can’t be there for them,” she said.
John Cash, a Ballantyne resident and parent, described community initiatives he’s involved in that could help students, such as the Charlotte Boys & Girls Club.
These groups work after school with children whose parents may not speak English or be able to help with schoolwork, he said. He said some groups need support and expertise on how they can best help children to succeed in school.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who also attended the meeting, said she is working on an initiative to coordinate the city’s after-school programs that she hopes to launch by the end of the year.
“We all have to be partners with schools because they cannot do it alone,” Roberts said.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.