Education

More central control is coming to CMS schools: What it means for kids, teachers.

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox talks to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Friday at a two-day summer retreat at Renaissance West STEAM Academy.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox talks to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Friday at a two-day summer retreat at Renaissance West STEAM Academy. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox likes to talk about “freedom within fences” for principals — and he said Friday he’s preparing to pull those fences in.

That’s because some teachers and some schools aren’t demanding enough from students who face obstacles and fall behind, he told the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board at a planning retreat at Renaissance West STEAM Academy.

“Algebra I or Math I is not the same across the district,” Wilcox said. “Many of our kids are getting a Math I course that does not set them up for success in math beyond that.”

The discussion came as Wilcox and the board looked at three goals that will guide strategies for the next six years: Giving every student access to “a rich, diverse and rigorous curriculum;” increasing social and emotional support for students; and making sure graduates are ready for “meaningful employment and/or higher education.”

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Three goals were the focus of Friday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board retreat at Renaissance West STEAM Academy. Ann Doss Helms ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Wilcox, who became superintendent in July 2017, said he’s still working on strategies to meet those goals. But he emphasized a term that’s likely to become one of the biggest buzzwords of 2018-19 for the district’s 19,000 employees: “guaranteed viable curriculum.”

That means you’ll still find differences in teaching styles and special themes from school to school, but parents should be confident that their kids are getting the same set of essential academic skills at all of them.

Over the years CMS leaders have struggled to strike a balance between the freedom to let educators be creative and the control that ensures basic standards are being met. Under some superintendents teachers were literally handed scripted lessons for some subjects, such as elementary school reading.

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Clayton Wilcox File photo

At the board retreat and in a June meeting with principals, Wilcox says he thinks CMS has swung too far toward freedom.

He noted that third-grade reading proficiency, targeted by North Carolina’s General Assembly as a key skill that needs improvement, has remained flat despite a barrage of efforts. While 2018 scores haven’t been released, Wilcox has said it will be another disappointing year for third-grade reading. That demands real change, he said.

“We are going to have to become a little more directive,” Wilcox said.

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The dearth of details one year into Wilcox’s tenure sparked some discussion Friday. Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said Wilcox’s summary of the board’s goals is too general to be meaningful. “If I’m the average person I can’t see what is the sense of urgency about it,” she said.

“These goals provide a broad direction that allow us to do the work that this community is demanding we do,” Wilcox replied.

Ellis-Stewart said she doesn’t think Wilcox has done enough to keep the board informed about significant decisions and strategies.

“Do you want the board to be involved when you’re at the grocery store getting the ingredients,” she asked, “or do you want the board involved after you’ve baked the cake and just want us to blow out the candles?”

“We’re all in the kitchen,” Wilcox said. “We’re all baking this cake every day.”

The board retreat, which is open to the public, continues from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Renaissance West STEAM Academy, 3241 New Renaissance Way, off West Boulevard.

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