Education

‘Why are they still angry?’ At first CMS board meeting, 17-year-old pushes for response

CMS board Vice Chair Elyse Dashew greets Providence High senior Saniye Wilson as she takes her seat with the school board.
CMS board Vice Chair Elyse Dashew greets Providence High senior Saniye Wilson as she takes her seat with the school board. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board gave Providence High senior Saniye Wilson a standing ovation as she began her first meeting as the board’s student adviser.

Before the meeting ended, she had challenged the adults at the dais to do a better job of addressing audience concerns.

Her questions came as the board discussed construction and renovation priorities related to a 2017 school bond campaign. Several people in the audience were concerned about a plan to move Waddell Language Academy, a K-8 language immersion magnet school, out of its current building into two smaller ones.

Wilson, 17, noted that when CMS staff gave the report, audience members were shaking their heads. “What’s the other viewpoint?” she asked.

Superintendent Ann Clark said she would try to explain: Waddell was built as a high school, and CMS needs high school seats in the southwest Charlotte area. While Waddell parents worry that fewer available classrooms in the new locations could mean fewer class offerings, Clark said, the magnet schools can use a “floating” plan, where some teachers must move between rooms with free space, as other crowded schools do.

“If it’s just a problem of them floating around,” Wilson persisted, “why are they still so angry about it?”

Vice Chair Elyse Dashew, whose children attended the language magnet, said the board’s process doesn’t allow for board members to talk when members of the public make comments, nor for the audience to chime in on board discussions. While there’s no interaction in meetings, Dashew said, she and other board members spend hours talking to constituents at other times.

“You should see how many hours I’ve spent on the phone with Waddell families,” Dashew said.

The board eventually voted 7-1 to approve the plan, but only after much more wrangling over the Waddell plan and other priorities.

In October, the board voted to add its first-ever student adviser. On Tuesday, board Chair Mary McCray credited member Ericka Ellis-Stewart with doing the “tireless work” to make that change.

The new process calls for each high school to elect a representative to a new superintendent’s student advisory council. Those representatives chose Wilson from their ranks to take a seat with the school board. She’s expected to attend meetings and board events through the end of the school year, a stretch that will include the introduction of a new superintendent and board decisions on student assignment policy related to school boundaries.

The student adviser can’t vote or take part in closed-door meetings.

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

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