Superintendent Ann Clark proposed changes Tuesday at 75 of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 170 schools, including new measures such as creating paired elementary schools to increase diversity, breaking up a popular STEM magnet and adding neighborhood zones to what have been full magnet schools.
The number of students affected remained unclear Tuesday night, but neighborhoods across the county will see their elementary, middle and/or high school assignments change if the school board approves Clark’s plan.
While two school board members had described the plan last week as “conservative,” Clark described it as “a significant body of work.”
“We are putting some different approaches before our community,” she said.
The student assignment review, which began in 2015, is designed to increase academic opportunities, deal with crowding and break up concentrations of disadvantage.
It remains unclear how many schools will continue to have extremely high concentrations of poverty, which is often coupled with racial isolation. Breaking up such concentrations has been a topic of fierce debate, with some believing it’s essential to provide educational equity and others fearing it could disrupt schools and erode support for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Highlights of the plan, which is also designed to address crowding, keep students close to home and promote continuity between grade levels, include:
▪ Introducing three sets of paired elementaries – Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead, Dilworth and Sedgefield, and Billingsville and Cotswold – which will improve diversity by having a bigger district where students attend one school for grades K-2 and move together to another for grades 3-5.
▪ Turning some full magnet schools, including Morehead STEM, Marie G. Davis IB and University Park and First Ward arts schools, into partial magnets by creating new neighborhood zones for them.
▪ Converting four combined elementary/middle schools – Morehead, Bruns, Westerly Hills and Reid Park – into elementary schools.
▪ Reopening Wilson Middle School, which closed in 2011, and turning Villa Heights, a former elementary school that currently houses an academy for overage high school students, back into a neighborhood elementary school.
▪ Taking magnet expansion beyond what was proposed last year, adding 4,270 magnet seats in 2018 and using new magnet programs to diversify high-poverty schools.
▪ Creating a zone for the K-8 school that will open at the Eastland Mall site in 2018. It will pull students who now go to four schools in east Charlotte, including the highly crowded Albemarle Road Elementary.
▪ Changing boundaries at 14 of 18 neighborhood high schools: Ardrey Kell, Butler, East Mecklenburg, Garinger, Harding, Hopewell, Hough, Independence, Mallard Creek, Myers Park, South Mecklenburg, Vance, West Charlotte and West Mecklenburg. Many of the changes involve small areas moving from one zone to another.
If passed by the school board, the changes will take effect in 2018-19. The board plans to hold a public hearing on May 9 and vote May 24.
High school students who face reassignment won’t have to change if they’re rising juniors or seniors that year. That means the first group to be affected will be those who start ninth grade in August.
Tuesday’s presentation caps almost two years of uncertainty fueled by a student assignment review the board began in 2015. It has been hailed by some as an opportunity to reverse the racial and economic isolation that has come to characterize dozens of Charlotte schools. At the same time, it sparked widespread anxiety that it would disrupt schools and communities, possibly creating an exodus to charter, private and neighboring county’s schools.
Last year the board approved the first phase of the review, which focused on using choice to boost diversity while offering better academic options. The board paid a consultant $138,000 to create new socioeconomic status ratings that shaped the magnet lottery for 2017-18. CMS has run two magnet assignment lotteries but has not yet released anything showing how the new system affected diversity or enrollment.
Clark told the board that 21 schools will see their socioeconomic diversity improve under the latest round of changes. That could include schools with high concentrations of poverty or wealth.
This year’s boundary phase has created anxiety not only among CMS families but property owners and homebuyers, as school assignments can affect the value of homes. There has been talk of splitting CMS, a prospect that now has some support in the General Assembly, and a task force created by Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor in response to the assignment review is exploring the option of municipal charter schools.
The impact was not immediately clear, as Clark’s plan is a complicated one that involves a series of related moves to change the size and makeup of student bodies across the county. One that’s likely to take people by surprise is the proposal to break up Morehead STEM Academy in the UNC Charlotte area, a K-8 magnet school with more than 1,000 students. It is always in high demand, with almost 800 students on the waiting list for the coming year.
The proposal would move the middle school STEM magnet to Martin Middle School, which shares the Governor’s Village campus with Morehead, Nathaniel Alexander Elementary and Vance High. Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead would both become combined neighborhood/magnet schools serving the Nathaniel Alexander zone, with students attending Nathaniel Alexander in K-2 and Morehead in K-3. Clark says adding magnet students to Nathaniel Alexander Elementary and Martin Middle will diversify two very high-poverty neighborhood schools.
The other two elementary pairings merge a high-poverty school with a more affluent one nearby, creating a more integrated group of students who will move together from one school to the next.
Clark and her staff plan an intensive schedule of meetings in all affected areas during the coming month. Clark plans to take questions live on the district’s Facebook page Wednesday morning. For details about the proposal and chances to talk about it, go to www.cms.k12.nc.us.