Big week for CMS: Magnets, superintendent search and more

Robotics classes are part of a magnet program designed to strengthen McClintock Middle School.
Robotics classes are part of a magnet program designed to strengthen McClintock Middle School.

A big week lies ahead for people who care about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The superintendent will reveal a plan for expanding and improving magnet schools.

The school board will continue its talks on top priorities for student assignment.

Members of the public plan to give the board an earful about assignment and a superintendent search. More than 20 had signed up by Friday morning.

And if that’s not enough, an update on efforts to help struggling schools and a vote on potentially controversial surplus land sales are also on tap.

Here’s what you need to know to keep up with the issues. Most will come up at Tuesday’s school board meeting, while the policy committee will discuss guiding principles for student assignment on Thursday.

Magnet plan

What’s happening: Superintendent Ann Clark’s plan for expanding seats in magnet schools will be laid out in public for the first time.

The back story: CMS had consultants from Magnet Schools of America do a study of the district’s specialized academic programs. Clark and her staff will use that report to shape specific recommendations.

Why it matters: About 20,000 of the district’s 148,000 students currently attend magnets. Administrators and board members have said they want to expand that number. They see more and better magnets as a key to competing with private and charter schools, improving academic performance and encouraging school diversity.

What’s the timing: Some changes will take effect in 2016-17, others in coming years.

Board action: Anything that requires board approval will come up for a vote later this fall.

Struggling schools

What’s happening: Administrators will report on the progress of Project LIFT and the Beacon Initiative, two of CMS’ efforts to improve low-performing schools.

The back story: Project LIFT, a public-private partnership to support West Charlotte High and its eight feeder schools, is entering the fourth year of a five-year turnaround plan. The Beacon Initiative was launched about a year ago to provide extra support to schools with persistently low performance.

Why it matters: Academic struggles at high-poverty schools are a challenge in every urban district in America. The prospects of thousands of students are at stake. Donors have pledged more than $50 million in hopes of seeing big changes at the Project LIFT schools.

Board action: None.

Superintendent search

What’s happening: Emails are circulating encouraging people to speak Tuesday in favor of a search and against extending Clark’s contract. About half a dozen had signed up last week.

The back story: In January, after Heath Morrison’s abrupt resignation under pressure, the board gave Clark a contract through summer 2016. Clark said at the time she wanted to retire then. Some board members and community leaders say they’d like her to stay longer, and Clark has not ruled that out in recent comments. A parent activist has emailed thousands of people urging them to resist the “quiet push” to keep Clark, taking issue with her qualifications and saying private talks have shut out the African-American community.

Why it matters: The issue has taken on racial overtones at a time when many are trying to unite the county to consider student assignment changes. And the decision about long-term leadership shapes almost everything that happens in CMS.

What’s the timing: The board has been mum about the search since a July meeting. Chairperson Mary McCray said last week she doesn’t anticipate scheduling meetings on the matter this month.

Board action: The issue isn’t on the agenda. While speakers can talk about the search in general, the board’s rules prohibit speakers from discussing individual CMS employees. McCray says she’ll stop anyone from talking about Clark.

Land sales

What’s happening: The board is scheduled to declare 18 tracts of unused land surplus, most of it on the edges of school campuses.

Why it matters: Selling the land could raise money for school construction and renovation, though it’s unclear how much. But since staff presented the plan to the board last month, some people have raised concerns about how land near their schools and neighborhoods might be used.

What’s the timing: Once the board approves the surplus list, the district will see if there are prospective buyers. If so, CMS will get the land appraised and take offers.

Board action: The item is on the consent agenda, which means it will be approved without discussion unless a board member asks that it be discussed and voted on separately.

Student assignment

What’s happening: At Thursday’s policy committee meeting board members will resume an ongoing discussion of guiding principles for student assignment.

Why it matters: The principles set the framework for a review of magnet programs, school boundaries and other issues that shape who goes to what school. Some see this review as a chance to break up concentrations of poverty that create challenges for many urban schools. Student assignment is one of the most difficult issues any school board deals with.

What’s the timing: The goal is to have the full review done by fall of 2016 so changes can take effect in 2017-18. Guiding principles would have to be approved much sooner, either late this year or early next year.

Board action: Committees can’t take official action, though members sometimes agree to strategies. For instance, they said at an August meeting that they’d create a public survey and hire a consultant, although neither has happened yet.

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

School board meeting

When and where: Starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the meeting chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Public comment: People can speak for up to three minutes on any topic at the start of the meeting. Call 980-343-5139 by noon Tuesday or sign up on site before the meeting starts.

Watch from home: The meeting can be viewed live online or on CMS-TV Cable 3.

Details: Find the agenda, a link to live streaming and contact information for board members at

Policy committee

When and where: 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 528 of the government center.

Public access: The meeting is open to the public, but no comments are taken. It isn’t aired live, but video will be posted afterward at the board link above.

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