Education

CMS board gets praise and advice on changes to magnet schools

Parents and students turned out with signs to support a new middle/high Montessori magnet school at Tuesday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting.
Parents and students turned out with signs to support a new middle/high Montessori magnet school at Tuesday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

It’s a good start, but ...

About two dozen speakers at Tuesday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting offered various endings to that sentence as they weighed in on proposed changes to the district’s magnet school plan.

Most praised the district’s effort to increase diversity and reduce the concentrations of disadvantaged students that characterize most low-performing schools. But concerns and criticism ranged from the impact on schools that lose students to a dearth of new magnets in east Charlotte to the challenges of communicating a complex new plan to families who don’t speak English.

“East Charlotte has so much potential. We are in need of targeted, strategic help from this board,” said S.Y. Mason-Watson.

Tuesday’s public hearing provided the first chance for people to tell the full board what they think of the magnet changes, which were unveiled earlier this month after more than a year of work on student assignment changes. A second round of public hearings is scheduled for Nov. 9, just before the board votes on changes to take effect in 2017. After that, the board will start reviewing neighborhood schools and boundaries, with changes taking effect in 2018 or later.

Tuesday’s tone was strikingly different from earlier student assignment meetings, when the board was working on broad goals for a student assignment review playing out over more than two years. Then, overflow crowds turned out in color-coded T-shirts supporting diversity or neighborhood schools, with many speakers offering dire warnings about the consequences of missteps.

This crowd was smaller, mellower and focused on solutions. It also included several Hispanic parents and students, a group that has been mostly absent from many public policy discussions, even as Latino students have grown to represent about one-fifth of CMS’ enrollment.

The most visible group, made up of Montessori parents and students bearing multicolored signs, came to support a plan to move and expand the the middle-high Montessori magnet program, which is temporarily housed at Sedgefield Middle School. It’s scheduled to move to the old J.T. Williams Middle School building next year, adding 375 seats the first year and 750 as the high school fills.

“My message is one of simple gratitude,” said parent Rebecca Farlow.

Students and parents from Marie G. Davis military/leadership academy, currently a K-12 magnet, questioned plans to convert it to a K-8 International Baccalaureate magnet, starting next year. The high school JROTC/public service magnet would move to Hawthorne High, currently a health sciences magnet. The move would add a total of 750 magnet seats.

“Families are ready to be part of that process, but we need more information,” said parent Jose Gamez.

Several Garinger High students spoke, joining adults in raising concerns about how the changes could affect high-poverty, low-performing schools. By encouraging families to choose magnets or other neighborhood schools as alternatives, CMS could damage schools that lose students and find themselves stripped of staff that could improve the schools, some said.

Speakers urged CMS to add magnets that would attract students to Garinger and its feeder schools. Sydney Rodriguez, a Garinger senior, suggested a medical magnet that would attract affluent families and motivated students.

Students asked how CMS plans to make sure parents who don’t speak English or who lack transportation and internet access understand and can take advantage of the options lottery. Garinger student Daniela Ramirez suggested working with houses of worship that have built trusting relationships with immigrant families.

Superintendent Ann Clark has said her staff plans extensive community outreach after the board approves a plan Nov. 9, including visits to neighborhoods and schools where families may need help using the online lottery.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Stay engaged

Wednesday: Superintendent Ann Clark holds a “coffee and conversation” session from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Elon Park Elementary, 11425 Ardrey Kell Road.

Tuesday: Clark holds a “coffee and conversation” session from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at Sharon Elementary, 4330 Foxcroft Road.

Nov. 7: Town hall meetings on the magnet plan from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at East Mecklenburg High, 6800 Monroe Road, and West Mecklenburg High, 7400 Tuckaseegee Road. Participate online by clicking the “town hall meetings” button at the top of the CMS website, www.cms.k12.nc.us.

Nov. 9: Public hearing and vote on the magnet plan, 6 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. Meetings are normally on Tuesdays, but this one is delayed because of Election Day.

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