3 CMS principals move into new administrative roles

Superintendent Heath Morrison is shaking up his system for supervising schools, adding two new zone superintendents and creating principal vacancies at Mallard Creek, Berry and North Mecklenburg high schools.

The changes are designed to provide more support for high-poverty schools, replicating the small administrative zone created through Project LIFT for West Charlotte High and its eight feeder schools. Administrators for that zone are paid partly with private donations.

The new administrators, approved 6-0 at a special school board meeting Tuesday afternoon, will be paid with federal money and a grant from the Wallace Foundation, a New York-based philanthropy that specializes in education for disadvantaged students. CMS leaders say the additional positions will not eat into the $402.7 million the district is seeking from Mecklenburg County for 2014-15.

“This isn’t adding a penny to our operating budget,” Morrison said, telling the board he expects to emphasize that message as he lobbies for an additional $46.2 million for employee raises, academic options, support staff and literacy programs.

The Northeast Learning Community, which covers the Garinger and Vance high school zones, will be split in two, with Mallard Creek Principal Nancy Brightwell promoted to oversee the nine schools in the Vance zone.

Charity Bell, the current Northeast superintendent, will be responsible for the 11 schools in the Garinger zone.

The West Learning Community will also be split, with Curtis Carroll, principal of Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology and former principal of Harding High, taking on responsibility for Berry and the Harding zone, a total of nine schools. West Superintendent Allen Smith will oversee 10 schools in the West Mecklenburg High School zone.

Each superintendent will be supported by an executive director and a curriculum coordinator.

The North Learning Community, which now oversees 30 schools in the Hough, North Mecklenburg, Mallard Creek and Hopewell zones, will see a change in leadership. North Meck Principal Matt Hayes will become superintendent of that zone, while current leader Dawn Robinson will become executive director, a job that’s currently vacant.

Four magnet or option schools from the North zone – Northwest School of the Arts, First Ward and University Park elementaries and the Performance Learning Center – will move to the East Learning Community, which currently has 19 schools.

In the South Learning Community, which now includes 35 schools in the Ardrey Kell, Olympic, Providence and South Mecklenburg zones, Kevin Hobbs is leaving CMS after one year in the job. Dennis Queen, a new hire from Milwaukee, will take that job. Collinswood and Waddell, both language immersion magnet schools that had been part of the West Learning Community, will be added to the South territory.

Administrative hires are normally approved during regular board meetings. Morrison and board members said Tuesday’s special meeting was called to avoid announcing the principals’ departures last week, just as testing began, and to allow quick action finding replacements. He said the search has already begun, and he could have some named as early as next week.

Adding administrators with six-figure salaries – Brightwell, Hayes and Queen will make $138,900 a year, while Carroll will keep his current salary of $143,997 – can be a controversial move during budget season. Morrison said the Wallace grant will cover the new zone superintendents and executive directors for the first two years, with federal Title I money for high-poverty schools covering the curriculum coordinators.

Morrison said he’ll pull that money from the Title I district administration, not from teachers and other support that program provides for schools.

Money that is supporting additional administrators for the Project LIFT zone runs out in 2017, when the $55 million, five-year project ends. Morrison said he hopes to keep finding grants to support the most challenged schools.

Denise Watts, superintendent of the Project LIFT zone, spoke about principal evaluations at the Education Writers Association national seminar in Nashville, Tenn., recently. She said regular visits to her schools are essential to developing strong leadership.

Watts acknowledged that it’s easier to stay closely involved when you supervise nine schools than if you have 20 or more. For instance, she said, one of her schools has high teacher turnover and low ratings on the teacher survey: “That’s a top priority.”