As CMS leaders grapple with critical long-term questions around student assignment, they have rightly determined that magnet schools should be part of our long-term vision.
Of course, magnets aren’t a silver bullet. As a recent report from Magnet Schools of America pointed out, our district’s magnet programs face questions around diversity, funding and professional development.
On the other hand, many magnet schools are working. Specialized curricula can give students an edge and fuel their passions. Nationally, dual-language programs are on the rise. Further, a recent New York Times article noted “dual-language programs can be a vehicle to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools.”
Here in North Carolina, legislators have set a goal to open a dual language magnet in every county. Schools like our district’s Collinswood Language Academy are a model for achievement.
Collinswood students are almost evenly split between native Spanish and native English speakers. Fifty-four percent of Collinswood’s students receive free or reduced lunch, yet its test scores are among the district’s highest. Last year only 39 percent of the district’s African American students tested on grade level. At Collinswood that number was 72 percent. Its success rate with economically disadvantaged students is almost double the CMS average.
Collinswood is closing the achievement gap.
It’s no wonder Superintendent Ann Clark and her team have proposed two new language immersion magnets: a K-8 program in northern Mecklenburg and a Spanish-English immersion magnet at the relief school being built for Albermarle Road Elementary.
But here’s the rest of the story.
Collinswood faces severe overcrowding and facility deficits.
It’s the only CMS school with more mobile classrooms than brick-and-mortar ones.Its utilization ratio – how CMS calculates overcrowding – is 191%. That’s the third highest ratio in CMS. The two schools above Collinswood on that list are both on tap for relief from the 2013 school bond.
More than 750 K-8 students are stuffed into and around a building with the capacity for 393.
Such severe overcrowding means Collinswood can’t offer the most basic of programs. It can’t have student assemblies because they’d break fire code. There’s no room to support clubs, no orchestra, no drama department, and almost no sports. Middle school electives are artificially limited because there’s no space in which to offer them.
At the same time the district seeks to emulate Collinswood’s success, it is failing to address its broken infrastructure.
CMS and the Board of Education face a tricky balancing act. As they seek to build a “second Collinswood,” they must not leave the original in the dust.
Rebecca B. Anderson is a Collinswood Language Academy parent.