Palisades Park parents fight for STEM program in middle school

Parents of students at the newly opened Palisades Park Elementary School repeatedly asked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday to allow their children to continue in a science, technology, engineering and math program when they get to middle school.

Palisades Park opened this fall in the fast-growing Steele Creek area with a schoolwide STEM program. Most students at the school come from the surrounding community, with a few magnet seats.

Because of how the CMS magnet program works, only the magnet students will be guaranteed a spot in a STEM middle school program.

The rest will be in the boundary for Southwest Middle School, with a traditional curriculum.

“It is unfair to take this unique program away from so many children,” parent Jessica Turton said.

Their presentations were part of a public hearing Tuesday at Garinger High School on the student assignment plan CMS unveiled earlier this month.

The plan primarily deals with setting boundaries around four new elementary schools slated to open next fall.

One school would ease crowding at Hickory Grove, Windsor Park and Albemarle Road elementary schools in east Charlotte. A second would relieve crowding at Highland Creek Elementary in north Charlotte. Sarah Foster, a Highland Creek parent, told the board Tuesday there is support for putting a K-8 school in the area as proposed.

CMS also plans to reopen Oakhurst Elementary as a science, technology, engineering and math partial magnet school off Monroe Road. Jay Wilson, a representative of the Echo Hills neighborhood, lobbied Tuesday for his community to be included in the boundary.

Starmount Elementary would also reopen near South Boulevard and Arrowood Road. The original proposal called for the Starmount neighborhood to be split between Starmount Elementary and Huntingtowne Farms. A new proposal presented Tuesday sent everyone in Starmount to the school there.

“Thanks for listening to our uproar,” Starmount resident George White said.

The student assignment plan also calls for opening a STEM magnet program in the southwestern portion of the county. The CMS proposal recommends opening it at Kennedy Middle and does not mention Southwest Middle. The district says it picked Kennedy Middle for the magnet program because the school is undercapacity and can handle the extra students. Southwest Middle is overcrowded.

Parents scrambled to speak one-on-one with Superintendent Heath Morrison before the hearing began and handed out reams of paper to board members. Nearly three dozen presented to the board in two-minute increments.

None received a response from the board. Members are scheduled to vote on a final proposal next month.

Palisades Park drew the most speakers. Parents also argued that CMS has put magnet programs at overcrowded schools in the past, and said that moving the STEM magnet to Kennedy Middle does nothing to relieve overcrowding in Steele Creek schools.

“The community is very frustrated right now,” parent Sayera Qasim said. “The magnet proposal is just a Band-Aid.”

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