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.
Over ten years ago, while serving on the CMS Long-Range Facilities Master Plan Taskforce, I saw first-hand CMS’ ongoing challenge as it relates to balancing overcrowded schools with under-utilized schools. These issues still exist today. There is a need to deal effectively with growth in suburban communities, while simultaneously providing equity for students attending schools closer to the center of Mecklenburg County. There is also a need for a healthy mix of educational options for families that include neighborhood schools and magnet schools. As a community, we need to identify strategies to deal with these challenges as we work to improve the quality of education for all children in Mecklenburg County.
In March of this year, the school board began to have focused discussions on student assignment, laying out a process and a timeline. To-date, we have had good dialogue on a variety of issues that impact student assignment: how we view our current guiding principles and the role they might have in future student assignment decisions. As a Board, we continue to debate and discuss the issue with a focus on doing what is best to ensure academic success for all children.
In my opinion, a well thought out student assignment plan should be comprised of at a minimum each of these suggested elements, if not more. It will seek to create or maintain stability for students and their families while keeping costs in line. It will focus on offering guaranteed seats in schools relatively close to home, while simultaneously strengthening choice and providing families with a myriad of magnet options. It will work to reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poverty and increase diversity at all schools. Diversity is important and our schools should reflect the diversity of this community. In order for our district to thrive, we must work to prevent the creation of schools with high concentrations of poverty.
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CMS data and other benchmarks from across the country show a direct correlation between low-performing schools and high concentrations of poverty. In addition to these elements, we must also consider how our schools are staffed to ensure that there are well-qualified teachers in all classrooms and strong leadership teams in every school. We must also work in partnership with the Mecklenburg County Commissioners to develop a plan to fund the capital needs identified by the school board in its capital needs assessment. We must realize that student assignment is not just a discussion based in school board policy and the individual and collective philosophy of its members. It is also tied to having a successful, timely and well-funded brick and mortar program. For an example of this we can look to Wake County’s success with school construction bonds and schools that exist without high concentration of poverty. Mecklenburg County is a “can do” community and I am sure we can find the will to do what is best for children.
Ericka Ellis-Stewart: www.Ericka4CMSBoard.com, @Ericka4CMSBoard