Superintendent Ann Clark used her annual state of schools speech Thursday to urge about 200 education and community leaders to unite to craft a new student assignment plan.
“We are at an incredible moment where we must wrestle with words like ‘equity’ and ‘diversity’ and where kids go to school. I invite each and every person in this audience to stay engaged and connected to that conversation,” Clark said to applause. “Because this is our moment. We get to decide.”
The event took place at West Charlotte High School, an icon of pride and struggle in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ history of court-ordered desegregation. And it coincided with a school board review of boundaries, magnets and policies related to assignment, with most members saying they want to break up the concentrations of poverty that can multiply educational challenges.
We stand here at West Charlotte High School poised for one of the most important conversations our community can have in the coming 18 months.
Superintendent Ann Clark
That discussion is in early stages, with the full board’s first discussion of broad goals set for Tuesday. Clark didn’t advocate any specific approach, but repeatedly urged the community to rally for all students. She noted that while other turning points, such as busing for desegregation and the race-neutral plan that followed, were forced by court orders. The current review is being done voluntarily.
“This is our moment for our kids,” Clark said, “and I believe it is the ‘our kids’ conversation that needs to prevail in the coming months.”
A personal twist
The State of Our Schools event, which has become a CMS tradition for the last few superintendents, featured a roster of successful students, district employees and community supporters. It also included quite a few comparisons to the victorious Carolina Panthers and the team’s “Keep Pounding” motto.
One of my goals is to have as much community pride for the accomplishments of our students across CMS as the community pride that we’re all feeling for our Super Bowl-bound Panthers. We, like those Panthers, will keep pounding.
Superintendent Ann Clark
But it also came with a personal focus on Clark, who has spent 32 years working for CMS and may retire this summer. She said the date was chosen because it’s the birthday of her father, Blake Clark, who died in July and who always stressed the value of education.
“Today is dedicated to my dad and to his legacy that lives on through me,” she said.
Charlotte Chamber executive Carrie Cook and Ridge Road Middle School Principal Jametta Martin-Turner opened the event by talking about how Clark mentored them when she was principal of Vance High School. Cook was a student and Martin-Turner was a newly-hired teacher.
“Ann Clark has empowered and lifted up so many of us in CMS,” Martin-Turner said.
Still unclear is whether the event was the start of a farewell tour or a push toward a new phase in leadership. Clark signed an 18-month contract in January 2015 saying she would not be a candidate to stay longer. But she has since indicated willingness to extend her work, and some board members say she’s the best person to lead through the challenging student assignment process.
On Friday, the board will spend most of the day deciding its next steps – unless the threat of icy roads intervenes. Board Chair Mary McCray said if schools are closed Friday the meeting will be postponed as well.
Clark also highlighted the need for community help in recruiting teachers and encouraging kids to read. She said businesses and houses of worship can help create a package of perks that would supplement a teacher’s paycheck and “signal that coming to teach in Charlotte is special.”
Bryan Fischer, a J.M. Robinson Middle School seventh-grader, got applause when he told the crowd one of his possible career paths might be teaching. Clark urged him to apply for a job in CMS.
Clark and other speakers talked about district and community efforts to boost reading skills for all students. “Although our reading scores are showing improvement, it’s not as fast or as significant as we want it to be,” Clark said.
While Clark celebrated rising graduation rates – and got laughs when she noted pointedly that CMS had topped rival Wake County last year – she touched on an underlying challenge: Exams show many of those graduates lack skills that would prepare them for jobs or college. She said her goal is for all graduates to leave with AP credit, an International Baccalaureate diploma or industry credentials so “we know that diploma is relevant” and “they are indeed prepared.”
What’s up next
Superintendent search: The school board will meet from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the Mahlon Adams Pavilion at Freedom Park, 2435 Cumberland Ave. The meeting will be postponed if CMS closes schools because of the threat of icy roads.
Student assignment: The board will discuss goals for its student assignment review at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9.