CMS board working on Gorman goals

More than two years after Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members hired Superintendent Peter Gorman, they're still trying to figure out what they want him to accomplish.

A three-hour meeting Friday to review Gorman's goals for 2008-09 brought no decisions, but sparked lively discussion on busing, poverty and weak teachers. The seven members present asked Gorman to bring back suggestions for measuring student progress in reading, math and writing.

“What I want to see is progress, and I want to see real progress,” said vice chair Molly Griffin.

When the board recently awarded Gorman an $18,200 bonus, it used a list of 93 goals, ranging from test-score targets and graduation rates to such personal attributes as writing clearly, maintaining “poise and emotional stability” and being “customarily attired and well groomed.”

When it came time for the board to reapprove that list Oct. 14, several members called it unrealistic and ridiculously long.

Friday, Trent Merchant urged his colleagues to focus on a handful of goals, arguing that the 93-point list is too detailed and statements such as “It's all about student achievement” and “Raise the bar, close the gap” are too broad to spur action.

“I don't think we're sending a clear message,” he said. “This is so much bigger than a $25,000 bonus.”

But instead of crafting big-picture goals, members were soon arguing over priorities and grilling Gorman about management decisions. At one point, Vilma Leake demanded to know who had made registration errors that led to Mallard Creek High's football team forfeiting games because of an ineligible player.

“This is part of the problem,” Gorman said, as members noted they were veering off topic.

Tom Tate said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools can't solve its biggest academic problems until the board changes its student assignment plan to avoid creating schools where most students come from impoverished homes: “I think that accumulation of poverty in schools is such a huge thing that we continually ignore.”

Chair Joe White said he agrees, but doesn't believe busing students to balance poverty levels is an option: “I think you'll be back in court again.”

Leake disagreed: “We might could have busing, but I don't think we're brave enough to take that step.”

Kaye McGarry urged the board to give Gorman and principals more freedom and flexibility to make decisions about how to improve each school, then judge them on the results. Merchant agreed, saying that with a few clear academic goals, the superintendent's evaluation should boil down to “Either ‘Yes, you did it' or “No, you didn't; goodbye, Pete.'”

Gorman said he will bring the board some options for measuring progress and proficiency based on state test scores. White said he expects the board to vote Dec. 9.

At that point, the first semester of 2008-09 will be almost over. The board will also be in transition; not only is George Dunlap – who was confirmed Thursday to the county commission – gone, but if Leake wins her county commissioner race Tuesday, she'll be off the board as well.

The board is already violating Gorman's contract, which calls for members to approve his annual goals by Oct. 31; Gorman agreed to the delay.