The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board began roughing out a plan Tuesday for using magnet schools to balance socioeconomic status and break up concentrations of disadvantage.
Specific policy decisions remain in the future, but the seven members present – Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Rhonda Lennon were absent – gave staff the go-ahead on several broad paths.
Consultants and staff used Census data on income, adult educational level, single-parent households, home ownership and English proficiency to rate each Census block in Mecklenburg County as high, medium or low socioeconomic status. The board agreed to merge those geographic ratings with individual data reported by students to set priorities for magnet admissions.
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That approach has not been modeled anywhere else, consultant Michael Alves told the board; other districts tend to use Census data or self-reported data.
“You could create a new best practice for here and the rest of the country,” Alves said. “The idea is you want to get it right. This is all about being able to access the magnets.”
The goal is to eventually create a roughly equal balance of students with low, medium and high socioeconomic status. For a high-poverty neighborhood school that hosts a magnet program, that would mean most magnet seats would be set aside for medium- or high-SES students. The reverse would be true at a program housed in a low-poverty neighborhood school, while full magnet schools would use the lottery to create a balance of all three groups.
The plan wouldn’t displace current magnet students. Instead, the priorities would take effect for entry grades, such as kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade.
Students who live close to a magnet school – the current limit is one-third of a mile – would also get priority for admission, as would students who are assigned to 22 schools that landed on the state’s 2016 list of recurring low-performing schools. Students in the low-performing schools would also have a priority to transfer into neighborhood schools that have space.
Some board members worried that meshing all these priorities will be complex.
“When families don’t get the result they’re hoping for, they’ll demand an explanation and they won’t understand the explanation,” Vice Chair Elyse Dashew speculated.
Scott McCully, one of the administrators leading the student assignment review, said CMS will explain the system on its website.
The board also gave staff the green flag – literally holding up sheets of green construction paper – to abolish the four current magnet transportation zones, replacing that system with three zones: one running from the center of Charlotte north, one in the southwest and one in the southeast.
Current plans call for adding 1,275 magnet seats in fall 2017. Those include computer science magnets at the old Newell Elementary building and Paw Creek Elementary; a middle college high school at Central Piedmont Community College’s Merancas campus; a new program for future educators at the UNC Charlotte Early College High; and a magnet program to be determined at Billingsville Elementary.
CMS administrators described the magnet changes as a four-year rollout, starting with the lottery in January 2017. The goal is to keep adding seats in coming years.
The board’s policy committee will review draft policy changes at its Sept. 19 meeting, with full board discussion and a public hearing in October. Find information about the student assignment review, including maps and notes from Tuesday’s meeting, at http://bit.ly/1o3eWhp.
In the coming months, the board will discuss changes to boundaries and neighborhood schools, taking effect in 2018.