Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will focus on literacy and developing talented leaders in the coming year, and the district is positioned to make more progress in student achievement, Superintendent Ann Clark said Thursday at the district’s State of our Schools speech.
The event at East Mecklenburg High marked Clark’s first major public appearance since being named to the position Tuesday. She will lead the district until 2016 when a new superintendent is named. Clark, 56, has said she will then retire from CMS and pursue a job with another organization.
Her speech largely followed the strategic plan that was hammered out in 2013 under former Superintendent Heath Morrison, which focused heavily on academic success and supporting teachers and staff.
Here are nine takeaways from Clark’s presentation.
1. Test scores are on their way up. Clark listed several areas where student scores are on the rise. Proficiency on end-of-grade tests rose in 2014, as well as average SAT scores. The graduation rate, too, increased last year, hitting a new high of 85.2 percent and exceeding the statewide rate.
Still, gaps remain between white and minority students, and proficiency and graduation rates are not as high as Clark would like.
2. Literacy matters more than anything. Clark again described literacy as the district’s “north star” – not just in English class, but across all subjects.
3. Teacher pay will be a priority. Clark said CMS wants to pay teachers and staff “competitive salaries” so the district doesn’t lose people to other cities or states.
One way she highlighted is the “ opportunity culture” program that gives successful teachers a career path within the classroom and higher pay. It’s currently in 17 schools, plus four schools in Project LIFT. Clark said after the speech that another six to eight schools will be on board next school year.
Raising teacher pay to the national average is one of the district’s top priorities in Raleigh.
4. CMS is focused on recruiting and developing principals. CMS has long put together a pool of talented people from which to hire principals, but now the district is spending time focusing on recruiting principals from outside Charlotte and training them.
“We are becoming more and more sophisticated as we realize that talent is our key lever to moving the dial,” Clark said.
The district is designing a leader tracking system to keep up with hiring and on-the-job support. They’ve also put together a five-year induction program for new principals and are working on a two-year program for assistant principals.
5. Administrators want to reduce out-of-school suspensions. Minority students tend to be suspended at higher rates than their white counterparts for the same infractions, and Clark said CMS is battling on several fronts to reduce suspension rates. The district is working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and juvenile judges to come up with alternatives. By next year, Clark said every principal will have “dismantling racism” training.
6. CMS will hold schools accountable. Next week, the state will put out “A” through “F” letter grades for each school, but the CMS school board is working on its own framework for evaluating school performance. It’ll be based on the following criteria:
• Academic proficiency.
• Student growth.
• Academic support for students who need it.
• Closing achievement gaps.
• Access to rigorous classes.
• Making students college- and career-ready.
• Graduating students in four years.
• Safe, engaging culture.
7. Clark wants more outreach in the community. Everybody who attended the event left with a CMS lapel pin. “I’m officially tapping you as ambassadors for CMS,” Clark said. “Welcome to Team CMS. Wear your CMS pride.” In the past, she’s talked about having teachers and staff be more vocal in the community about the value of education and the good news in the district. CMS also has the goal of creating community partnerships with each school.
8. The district has launched a mobile app. Available on Apple, Android and Windows, the app includes school menus, alerts on weather delays, an events calendar and press releases.
9. The Myers Park High jazz band is talented. Take a look: