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Louisville, Nashville and other districts may provide hints for CMS

Lunchtime at Hawthorne Elementary School in Louisville, Ky.
Lunchtime at Hawthorne Elementary School in Louisville, Ky. The Atlantic

As public interest in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ student assignment talks gears up, it’s a good time to remind people about the resources the district is putting online.

CMS is hardly the only district in America grappling with academic achievement, diversity, choice and a host of other issues related to how kids are assigned to schools. The district’s student assignment page includes links to information about six districts the board is looking at: Montgomery County, Md.; Louisville, Ky.; Seattle; Nashville, Tenn.; Hartford, Conn.; and, of course, Wake County.

Spoiler: None of them has a plan that CMS can copy to solve all problems and make everyone happy. And links to board policies make for tedious reading.

But there’s a fascinating article from The Atlantic on Louisville, “The City That Believed in Desegregation.” I’ve been curious about that city’s plan ever since Scott McCully, the CMS administrator in charge of the assignment review, cited Jefferson County Public Schools as the district he’s looking most closely at as a model.

The report from Alana Semuels contrasts Louisville, which has fought to maintain an assignment plan that promotes diversity, with Detroit, which has become America’s cautionary tale about flight from urban schools.

In 1972, Detroit and Louisville schools were both about 80 percent white and 20 percent black, Semuels reports. Today the Jefferson County district is 49 percent white, 37 percent black, and 14 percent Latino, while Detroit’s schools are virtually all black, with very high poverty.

As you might guess, Louisville comes off looking good in the comparison. The article’s pro-diversity perspective might raise concerns among some CMS families who worry that the school board is about to disrupt neighborhood schools and put kids on long bus rides to balance demographics. But it’s a highly readable examination of the twists and turns of a policy that has brought both successes and struggles.

It’s also interesting to see how the Nashville school district defined diversity, a topic the CMS board started talking through last fall and will have to return to. The district’s nine-page “Diversity Management Plan” and other diversity initiatives, all linked from the CMS site, offer a starting point for discussion.

There’s a lot of anxiety in Mecklenburg County, but it’s clear that a growing number of families, community groups, churches and civic organizations are tuning in and speaking up. Now is a good time to join that crowd.

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

Get engaged

CMS

▪ Find links, meeting videos and other resources at www.cms.k12.nc.us; choose “2017-18 Student Assignment Review” under Spotlight. The review page also includes a link to the district’s student assignment opinion poll, open through Feb. 22.

▪ The school board will vote on student assignment goals at its regular meeting, 6 p.m. Feb. 23, at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. It airs live on CMS-TV Cable 3.

▪ The board’s policy committee meets 6-8 p.m. March 10 in Room 267 of the Government Center to discuss student assignment.

Community

Tuesday: CMS board member Paul Bailey will host a discussion of student assignment, 6:30-8 p.m., Carmel Baptist Church, 1145 Pineville-Matthews Road, Matthews.

Tuesday: Charlotte integration pioneer Dorothy Counts-Scoggins and CMS board member Eric Davis will be part of a conversation on schools, racial equity and the faith community’s role, 7 p.m., Myers Park United Methodist Church, 1501 Queens Road. Details: 704-376-8584 or www.mpumc.org.

Thursday: MeckEd will hold a community conversation on student assignment, 9-10:30 a.m., CMS Smith Family Center, 1600 Tyvola Road. Details or RSVP: sphillips@mecked.org

Feb. 29: Charlotte Magazine will host a panel discussion on “Does Charlotte Offer Equal Public Education to All?” 5:30-8 p.m., Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St. Reservations and details: www.charlottemagazine.com/discussclt

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