New CMS options: Some fill quickly, some don’t

A new high school opening on the UNC Charlotte campus filled immediately, one of the successes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ beefed-up menu of academic options for 2014-15.

But other new choices, including a Montessori magnet in Huntersville, a career-tech hub at North Mecklenburg High and a small high school in Matthews, fell short of expectations during the first assignment lottery, according to numbers posted this week.

So far, more than 20,000 students have been placed in magnets and other opt-in schools, with 3,752 on waiting lists. Compared with last year’s lottery, that’s about 1,400 more students getting seats and 600 fewer on waiting lists.

CMS is continuing to recruit for new and existing programs that haven’t filled.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said increasing the number of academic specialties is part of his push to “offer every family in Charlotte-Mecklenburg at least two high-quality options.”

STEM schools – those specializing in science, technology, engineering and math – are a popular and expanding option. Morehead STEM Academy, a K-8 magnet that traditionally generates huge demand, has 668 students on the waiting list for 1,180 seats.

That’s down from recent years because CMS is opening new magnets with similar themes at Cochrane Collegiate Academy (152 students placed), McClintock Middle (107 students), Coulwood Middle (38 students) and the new elementary school opening in the southwestern Palisades area (150 students and 63 on the wait list).

While Coulwood’s new magnet drew fewer than expected, CMS officials said the others met or exceeded expectations. Coulwood, which will lose students from Mountain Island Elementary as it begins converting to a K-8 school, will keep recruiting to fill up to 150 seats. The magnet means students will get additional classes such as robotics, space flight, computer programming and “medical detectives,” said Principal Janet Moss.

The new early college high school at UNCC’s energy and engineering center filled its 100 ninth-grade seats with 94 more waiting to get in. Morrison said he’d like to admit a bigger group, but the state, which provides financial support, limits early college classes to 100 per grade level. Students will be able to spend up to five years at the UNCC high school earning up to two years of tuition-free college credit while working toward their diploma.

Cato Middle College High, an existing school that provides a similar option for 11th- and 12th-graders at the Central Piedmont Community College campus in northeast Charlotte, filled its 220 seats in the first lottery. But two clones, destined for CPCC’s Levine and Harper campuses, fell short.

Eventually CMS plans to have 300 students each at Levine in Matthews and Harper in southwest Charlotte. Next year both will be housed at Levine, and the goal was 200 students. But in the January-February application period CMS got only 55 applications for Levine and 14 for Harper.

A new health science magnet at Hawthorne High drew 87 applicants.

Perennially popular foreign language, Montessori, International Baccalaureate, arts and traditional education magnets continued to draw strong interest.

A new Montessori elementary school on the campus of Long Creek Elementary in Huntersville drew 87 prekindergarten and kindergarten students, but only five for grades 1-3. Student placement director Scott McCully said that’s not surprising, because most students enter Montessori programs in the early grades. Older students, who are screened for prior experience with the program that emphasizes individual exploration and multigrade classes, will continue to be admitted by transfer.

North Mecklenburg High is pioneering a new “hub” approach designed to give teens access to specialized career-prep programs. This year, however, only a handful applied to transfer in: Seven each applied for the cosmetology and culinary arts programs, two for automotive, one for horticulture and none for carpentry.

Such classes require specialized equipment and staffing, but McCully said he’s not worried about filling them because North Meck students will also sign up.