Education

A parent faced roadblocks with school choice. Here’s how CMS will fix the problems.

One parent’s massive headache with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools choice system is turning into better service for thousands, as Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Friday the district is taking immediate steps to fix hang-up calls and other hurdles.

The changes come as thousands of families face a Dec. 18 deadline to apply for magnets and seek alternatives to low-performing schools. And they come two days after the Observer chronicled the roadblocks faced by parent Chavon Carroll when she tried to navigate that system.

“CMS is committed to both immediate and longer-term steps to increase access and improve the school choice process for all families,” Wilcox said in an open letter posted on the district website and sent to news media Friday afternoon.

Among the changes: Thousands of families who qualify for a priority to leave low-performing schools are now getting notices explaining that process. Clearer instructions have been added to www.CMSChoice.org, where families apply for 2018 assignments. And Wilcox says the call center has been improved to avert the problem Carroll faced when she was repeatedly put on hold, then disconnected.

“That is awesome!” said Carroll, president of the Newell Elementary School PTA, when told about Wilcox’s letter.

Chavon Carroll
Chavon Carroll (right) ran into a series of roadblocks looking for alternatives to a low-performing middle school for her 11-year-old daughter Jordan. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Wilcox, who started the job in July, inherited a series of complex student assignment changes that his predecessor and the school board had spent two years hashing out. The revised student assignment plan relies heavily on family choice to meet its goals, which include providing more and better academic options, giving families alternatives to chronically struggling schools and breaking up concentrations of poverty.

The application season for 2018-19 assignments opened in November, two months earlier than usual. That first week, Carroll learned from an Observer article that her 11-year-old daughter, Jordan, appeared to qualify for special priority getting into schools other than her neighborhood middle school.

Jordan is among about 12,000 students attending 16 CMS schools that have been labeled low performing three years in a row. The promise of alternatives for families who want out is a crucial part of the new assignment plan.

But despite her college education and her network of school contacts, Carroll had trouble finding information. CMS has not even posted a list of the schools that qualify. After trying in vain to track down clear information online, she began calling the student placement office, only to be put on hold and disconnected.

Long term, Wilcox’s letter says, CMS is exploring better digital platforms and a year-round call center.

For now, the options include visiting CMSChoice.org, calling 980-343-5030 or using the chat function on the CMS School Choice Facebook page to ask questions, schedule an appointment or request a call-back.

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

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