Up to 27,000 students in 35 low-performing Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools could get a new path to transfer out, as school board members asked staff to prepare a revised policy to take effect this spring.
The proposal to allow transfers from schools graded D or F emerged from a special three-hour committee meeting Monday night, attended by six of nine school board members and only a handful of citizens. If approved – which would require a public hearing and full board vote – attending a low-graded school would join the short list of acceptable reasons for seeking a new school assignment, along with medical necessity, “extreme hardship” and being the child of a CMS employee.
“This gives parents a new way to vote with their feet,” said board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart. She added that it increases the urgency “to figure out what we have to do to make all schools exceptional.”
This gives parents a new way to vote with their feet.
CMS board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart
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Superintendent Ann Clark, who retires in June, said letting students switch schools is only part of the strategy to help students succeed. In addition, the district is working on efforts to provide better support for low-performing schools and students who need extra help.
“If we do the math, we don’t have enough seats to empty every D-F school,” Clark told board members.
Incoming Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who spoke Tuesday at a MeckEd community meeting, said he’s not involved in the details of student assignment planning yet. But he voiced support for the board’s direction, combining parent choice with better options.
“No child, no family should find themselves in a place where their zip code determines their educational outcomes,” Wilcox said.
Part of Monday’s meeting centered on an already-approved plan to let students request seats in higher-scoring neighborhood schools if their school has been on the state’s low-performing list for three consecutive years.
But that option only applies to six of CMS’ 168 schools. The proposal to offer transfers for students in all D and F schools adds a possible escape route for students in an additional 29 schools.
The new option would not guarantee any student a seat in a new school, but would give families the chance to apply for new 2017-18 assignments starting next month. Decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, based partly on whether seats are open in the requested school.
Major questions remain, including:
▪ How many students would seek and receive new assignments? In the past, relatively small numbers of families have accepted offers to move their children out of low-scoring schools. And some higher-scoring schools don’t have space to add many students.
▪ Would CMS provide transportation, and if so, what would it cost? Several members said that offering bus rides is the only way to ensure that all students get a fair shot at a better assignment.
▪ How would the transfers affect schools that lose and gain students? The departure of motivated students and families could hobble schools that are trying to boost their grades, while schools on the receiving end could get more students who need help catching up.
Last year the CMS board agreed to work toward a student assignment plan that maintains the district’s mix of neighborhood schools and choice, but with more options, new strategies to break up concentrations of disadvantaged students and new alternatives for students in schools that don’t meet state performance standards.
North Carolina assigns letter grades based on student performance on state exams. All 35 CMS schools that earned a D or F have extremely high concentrations of poverty, which often corresponds to low scores. Among them are six neighborhood schools that have been on the state’s low-performing list for three years in a row.
CMS recently concluded its 2017-18 assignment lottery, which gave everyone a chance to apply for magnets. In addition, students in the six schools could request seats in specified neighborhood schools graded A, B or C. Families who entered that lottery will be notified of assignments in early March.
Those who still aren’t satisfied with their child’s assignment can apply for reassignment or transfer. That’s where the new option for D and F schools would kick in, if the board approves it in March.
Meanwhile, the board continues to work on criteria that will be used to revise school boundaries for 2018-19 and beyond.
D and F schools
Elementary: Allenbrook, Billingsville, Briarwood, Greenway Park, Hickory Grove, Hidden Valley, Montclaire, Nations Ford, Newell, Oakdale, Sedgefield, Starmount, Sterling, Tuckaseegee, Winterfield.
Middle: Albemarle Road, Eastway, Martin, King, McClintock, Northeast, Ranson, Sedgefield, Whitewater.
High: Garinger, West Mecklenburg.
Combined: Ashley Park, Bruns, Byers, Cochrane, Druid Hills, Davis Military/Leadership, Reid Park, Thomasboro, Westerly Hills.