CMS student achievement is tied to race, class. New committee seeks to break that link.

After more than a year of discussion over policy and practice, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools finally has a community equity committee again, after one formed in the early 2000s was disbanded about 10 years ago.

The school board appointed 39 community members, one staff member and one board member to the 41-person committee at its Tuesday meeting. The newly formed group will be tasked with serving as the district’s watchdog on how well it is achieving equity in student outcomes.

“We hope this committee will help us come up with innovative and effective ways to build equity in our schools and in our community,” board chair Mary McCray said. “All students deserve an equal chance at success.”

Like many other large urban school districts, CMS struggles with a wide disparity in student outcomes, which are strongly correlated with race and socioeconomic status. In CMS, black and Latino children in high-poverty schools lag behind white students in low-poverty schools, who often have the best access to experienced teachers and advanced classes.

The appointees range from former CMS teachers to community organizers to academics, spanning a wide array of experiences in public schools and education. The nine board members and the student representative each appointed two members to the committee. The full board picked the remaining members from a large pool of applicants.

Interest in the joining the community equity committee was strong — more than 350 people applied for the 20 elected positions during the month-long submission period.

Teachers and other CMS employees made up a notable portion of those seeking a spot on the committee. In response to the overwhelming staff interest, Superintendent Earnest Winston said he would form an internal staff working group to advise the newly formed board committee.

“Our employees recognize the importance of making sure that every student can learn and does learn,” he said. “Our educators who work with students every day are eager to contribute to the district’s work on equity – and we’re proud to see such strong interest among our employees.”

Frank Barnes, chief equity officer, will serve as the CMS staff liaison to the committee. McCray appointed Thelma Byers-Bailey, whose district includes much of west Charlotte, as the board member on the equity committee, citing the high number of schools where equity is a prominent concern in her district.

“She can show, ‘My schools are improving,’” McCray said. “Therefore, those schools in district two are getting the benefit of this equity committee that we are bringing forth.”

The new committee is not without its challenges. At Tuesday’s meeting, McCray presented a slide outlining the committee’s duties, which include partnering with the board in community dialogue, reviewing data, meeting regularly and providing updates to the board. Board member Ruby Jones said that she worried that in its current form, the committee’s mandate is too vague.

“’Meet regularly’ is nebulous,” Jones said. “’Review reports’ is ambiguous, and may well be redundant. The board regularly get reports.”

In May, the board passed an equity policy after more than a year of consideration, outlining ways to measure and monitor the district’s progress. It lists six factors that will be reported on quarterly: student assignment; educational opportunities and expectations; student wellness; school facilities; human resources, leadership and staff; and family engagement.

The district’s previous equity committee in the early 2000s followed a Supreme Court ruling that ended court-ordered desegregation and CMS schools began to segregate once again. That committee produced annual reports on equity in the district, but it was ultimately dissolved.

Here are the members of the equity committee:

Board appointees: Derrik Anderson, Devonya Govan-Hunt, Shericka Kemp, Arun Nair, Jason Terrell, Victor Armstrong, Kimberly Muhich, Jason Colvin, Gilbert Gilchrist, Lucille Frierson, Lionel Means, Dee Rankin, Justin Perry, Zhenia Martinez, John Murchison, Kobi Brinson, Boe Clark, Sonia Gwyn, Jayden Davis, Stella Smolowitz.

Elected members: Margueritta Brown, Bettie Butler, Connie Cabbs Christina Corpening, Frank Garcia, Pamela Grundy, Leslie Gutierrez, Ian Joyce, Chance Lewis, LeDayne Polaski, Richard Purcell, Adam Rhew, Amelia Stinson-Wesley, David Taylor, Yolanda Trotman, Sharika Comfort, Christopher Corcoran, Kimberlee Cox-Benjamin, Saronda Easter.

Annie Ma covers education for the Charlotte Observer. She previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Chalkbeat New York, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Oregonian. She grew up in Florida and graduated from Dartmouth College.