The Observer asked all nine candidates for the three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to select a top priority for student assignment and explain their views in 500 words or less (get links to the others here). This statement is unedited.
Our public schools are the best hope for building paths to success – but only if we can muster the community commitment, smart policy, funding, and political will to address what our children need. We can and must increase student achievement in our schools. The health and prosperity of our community depends upon it. I have the skill set, experience, and passion to help bring this about.
Our neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County tend to be economically and racially segregated. Our schools are increasingly segregated too – more so than any of the top ten largest school districts in North Carolina. Poor children born here are more likely to remain trapped in poverty than nearly anywhere else in America.
This is a growing challenge that touches every sector in our community, and it keeps me awake at night. It will take a community-wide effort to find a solution: county, city, town, school board, faith, and business leaders must commit to working together. I have spent years collaborating with broad-based problem-solving coalitions. I am ready to put that experience to work tackling this and other issues.
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The school board is just one partner in this effort. Here is the critical piece the school board owns: Student assignment. Decades of research tells us that diverse schools bring academic and non-academic benefits, including increased academic performance, improved critical thinking skills, higher graduation rates, increased success in college, higher career aspirations and attainment, reduced negative stereotyping, increased civic engagement, access to broader social and professional networks, and graduates more likely to work and live in integrated environments.
Our students and our community will benefit if we can find a way to increase diversity in our schools. But how? Is busing the answer? We currently bus more miles per student than ever before. Is it a matter of where we build new schools? With a record number of overcrowded schools, and land increasingly scarce and expensive, we don’t have many options for new school locations.
The good news is that we have some great examples of schools where we’re already doing well. Talk to the families of Shamrock Gardens and Rama Road elementary schools, and they’ll show you a model where their children are thriving. These schools have diverse attendance zones, although previously the student populations reflected a high concentration of poverty. In recent years, middle class and affluent families have re-embraced their neighborhood schools. The schools have become more diverse, and the students and our community are reaping the benefits.
In today’s complex fiscal and political environment, there are no simple answers. However, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg it is in our DNA to tackle challenges like this. I look forward to working together with broad sectors of our community in crafting the long-term and immediate solutions.
Elyse Dashew: www.dashewforschoolboard.com, 704-659-6994, @elysedashew