Choice will be a factor in CMS construction and bond plans

A new building for Collinswood Language Academy, a popular and crowded K-8 magnet school, is at the top of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools construction list.
A new building for Collinswood Language Academy, a popular and crowded K-8 magnet school, is at the top of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools construction list.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that a magnet theme had been selected for the high school on the current Waddell campus.

An emphasis on magnet programs was clear Tuesday as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board began reviewing construction and renovation plans for the coming decade.

For instance, the short list of high-priority projects is dominated by an expanded approach to language magnets. Two K-8 language magnets, Collinswood and Waddell, would move to new buildings on the south Charlotte campus of the old Smith Language Academy, which is now used for offices. Collinswood, which teaches all students in both Spanish and English, and Waddell, where students choose instruction in Chinese, French, German or Japanese, would remain separate schools but might share athletic fields or other facilities.

“We could have a really exciting language campus,” Superintendent Ann Clark told the board.

A new K-8 language magnet would be built in the northern suburbs.

Waddell, which was a southwest Charlotte high school before being turned into a magnet for lower grades in 2011, would be renovated as a high school magnet, with a theme to be determined.

The construction planning comes as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools faces increased competition from charter and private schools, and as the board reviews its student assignment policy. With hundreds of parents expressing concern that the board will redraw boundaries and disrupt the schools they value, board members have talked repeatedly about using school choice to encourage diversity, reduce concentrations of poverty, boost achievement and keep families engaged with CMS.

Much remains to be resolved. By May, the board has to decide whether to ask Mecklenburg County commissioners to put school bonds on the November ballot, and if so, how much to ask for. That’s also the self-imposed deadline for the board to decide whether it’s ready to make student assignment changes that take effect in 2017-18.

At Tuesday’s meeting a range of speakers urged the board to accomplish its goals through means other than redrawing boundaries and assigning long bus rides. Speakers for neighborhood schools ranged from Joshua Dobi of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce to Ken Simmons and Erlene Lyde, African-American educators with experience in high-poverty schools.

“Even thinking about busing children away from their neighborhood schools is akin to insanity,” said Simmons, a former principal.

Said CMS parent Molly Shaw: “Parents deserve school choice if they seek it out, and neighborhood schools must stay intact.”

Talk about the 10-year construction plan came at a work session earlier Tuesday afternoon. CMS staff emphasized the importance of moving fast to buy land where new schools will be needed. Sites big enough for schools in high-growth areas “are going to go away or they’re just going to get more expensive,” said Chief Operating Officer Carol Stamper.

Construction of new neighborhood schools requires redrawing boundaries for the crowded schools they will relieve. Clark said new schools can also open opportunities for magnet programs, either in the new buildings or in existing schools that see space freed.

The board made no decisions at the Tuesday afternoon session.

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

Learn more

Construction plan

Keep up with information related to school construction, renovation and bonds at; use the 2016-17 Budget/Capital Plan link under Spotlight.

Student assignment

The CMS board’s policy committee meets to discuss student assignment at 6 p.m. Thursday in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Public engagement

A public forum on 2016-17 budget information is 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Independence High, 1967 Patriot Drive.