Education

CMS board: We’re on track for fall assignment decisions

A February hearing on student assignment drew an overflow crowd, many bearing signs.
A February hearing on student assignment drew an overflow crowd, many bearing signs. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is on track to make student assignment decisions this fall and will meet with its newly hired consultants in May or June, leaders said Thursday.

The board, which has been working on a student assignment review since 2015, set this month as a “go or no-go” point, where members would decide whether they needed an extra year to do the work.

At a Tuesday committee meeting, Superintendent Ann Clark said representatives of Alves Educational Consultants Group, which is based in Massachusetts, will meet with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools top staff and board members soon, with regular visits and reports in the coming months.

“I think time is definitely of the essence,” said board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

“We agree,” Clark said.

The board has approved guidelines for revising student assignment policies, with a focus on choice as a means of boosting diversity and improving academic options. Neighborhood-based assignments will remain, but CMS plans to start using socioeconomic status in some boundary decisions and magnet admissions.

Now the work of drafting specific plans for the board to consider falls to staff and the consultants, said Tom Tate, who chairs the panel that has led the assignment review so far. The board is scheduled to start the approval process for 2017-18 changes in October, with a vote in November.

Among the tasks ahead:

▪ Figuring out how to define socioeconomic status and how to handle a plan that would let students opt out of persistently low-performing schools.

▪ Clarifying the process for drawing community boundaries.

▪ Deciding how to revise the assignment lottery that is used for admission to magnet and other opt-in schools. A neighborhood-school lottery could be added to accommodate students exercising their new option to attend a higher-performing school.

▪ Deciding whether to redraw the four existing transportation zones and/or create new “choice zones.”

▪ Balancing transportation costs with the desire to provide access to opt-in schools for all students.

▪ Deciding whether to continue the policy of allowing magnet schools to send students back to their assigned home schools if they violate behavioral standards, pile up absences or are repeatedly not picked up from school on time.

Ellis-Stewart added that if the board is going to shuffle transportation schedules as part of the review, this would also be a good time to consider the perennial request from many families to push back the 7:15 a.m. start time for high schools.

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

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