From Kathy Ridge, executive director of MeckEd, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works toward the betterment of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:
Across our country, citizens are celebrating change and the election of, we hope, transformational leaders. We believe a positive result of this election can be renewed civic engagement. With the problems facing Charlotte – crime, homelessness and economic woes – we need to turn our attention to the civic priority that can dramatically transform our community: public education.
Next November, we have another election that will help determine the employability of our future workforce, the safety and quality of life in our neighborhoods, the competitiveness of our economy and the stability of our families.
There could be nothing more important for our area's best leaders to step up to than directing our school system. The CMS school board guides the work of our superintendent and oversees 167 schools, 8,860 teachers and 132,281 students.
Occasional criticism of the current school board notwithstanding, these nine citizens have basically volunteered their time (most receive about $900 a month, less than half that paid to county commission or City Council members). They spend dozens of hours each month in meetings plus time preparing and being in touch with staff and their constituents. They subject themselves to public scrutiny in a role guaranteed not to “please all the people all the time.”
Why would anyone want to serve on this board? Because of what's at stake and what is critically needed: smart, system-wide thinkers and learners who can intelligently assess issues, set priorities, and motivate others to join in taking courageous action.
The statistics across the country, the state and CMS are alarming. The N.C. Public School Forum reports that for every 100 students in ninth grade, 60 will complete high school four years later, 41 will enroll in college and only 19 will receive an associate's degree within 3 years or a bachelor's within 6 years. In CMS, the numbers are comparable. From Communities in Schools information, we know that each dropout is 8 times more likely to be in jail than a person with at least a high school diploma. In March of 2008, 63 percent of N.C. Department of Correction inmates were high school dropouts and cost the state $635 million that year.
We have schools that are increasingly less diverse racially and socioeconomically. Our schools are tremendously overcrowded with approximately 1,200 trailers serving as classrooms. Reading test scores locally and statewide show significant numbers with pass rates below 50 percent. Our school board decides whether changes are appropriate to the current student assignment plan, retains and works with the superintendent, decides how construction priorities will be established and approves the plans for instructional improvements.
There are six district seats and three at-large seats on our school board. The six district seats are up for election in November 2009. We encourage citizens who are gifted with leadership, wisdom and decision-making to consider becoming servant leaders on behalf of our community. It's not too early to start planning for next November. This is leadership over our lives and future we can control.