Your Schools

Push to protect CMS neighborhood schools builds momentum

Some people brought signs to Tuesday’s student assignment meeting in Matthews, hosted by school board member Paul Bailey.
Some people brought signs to Tuesday’s student assignment meeting in Matthews, hosted by school board member Paul Bailey. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Parents who want to protect their neighborhood schools are mobilizing in a big way, with hundreds joining two new groups and turning out for a student assignment session in Matthews Tuesday night.

In 2015, as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board began reviewing policies on boundaries, magnets and other assignment issues, talk about resegregation and diversity dominated the discourse.

This year neighborhood schools and busing are grabbing the spotlight, as parents who like their public schools let the board know they don’t want their schools disrupted or their children bused long distances to balance demographics.

Consider:

▪ After a school board hearing on assignment goals drew an overflow crowd last week, an information session hosted by board member Paul Bailey drew about 1,000 people to Carmel Baptist Church in Matthews Tuesday night. When Bailey assured the group that he supports neighborhood schools, the room erupted with applause and cheers.

▪ A group called CMS Families United for Neighborhood Schools had more than 2,100 likes on Facebook after it launched last week. Rachael Weiss, one of the founders, said parents are motivated by talk that the school board is planning “massive upheaval” that would cause lasting damage.

▪ Another recently organized group called CMS Families for Close to Home Schools and Magnet Expansion had about 1,570 group members on Facebook and was selling green T-shirts emblazoned with “#Close-To-Home-Schools #NOforcedbusing” at Bailey’s gathering.

For anyone who has missed it, the school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on broad goals for its assignment review. CMS is also conducting a public opinion poll and plans to hire a consultant in March to help develop a plan. In May, the board will decide whether to continue with its goal of wrapping things up this fall or take another year.

Bailey said he’s hearing a lot of distrust and skepticism from the south suburban District 6 constituents he represents. Many believe the board has already made up its mind and skewed the survey to get results it wants, he said.

“I’ve gotten so many emails saying, ‘You already have a student assignment plan in place.’ We don’t,” he said. “We don’t even agree on what ‘diversity’ means.”

The proposed goals include providing choice, breaking up concentrations of disadvantaged students and alleviating crowding. They’re not ranked in order of importance, and the biggest debate stems from how the board will ultimately balance competing priorities.

Weiss, who has preschool children and lives in the Providence Spring Elementary zone, and Boe Clark, an Ardrey Kell High parent who helped start the other parent group, say they’re trying to make sure families are well informed about the process. Both say their top priority is making sure CMS doesn’t damage neighborhood schools, but say that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to diversity.

Instead, they say, the district should continue to offer magnet programs and other options that allow families a choice without forcing them to switch schools. And as Clark noted – and the crowd at last week’s hearing illustrated – most south suburban public schools are ethnically diverse, with a large white and Asian enrollment and smaller but significant black and Hispanic minorities.

Clark and Weiss say they’re seeking common ground with OneMeck and other groups that have pushed for assignment changes to break up concentrations of poverty and racial isolation. Weiss said she’s interested in pushing for more resources for high-poverty schools: “I don’t want to see poverty continue to propagate. Who wants that?”

Clark said his group is stressing the need to do more to recruit high-quality teachers for schools that are hard to staff.

OneMeck organizers, too, have said they hope to see people unite. And they’re working to make sure their message isn’t lost: They’ve launched a #DiversityWorks campaign, asking people to submit videos to the group’s YouTube channel talking about how they’ve benefited from diverse schools. There were 30 video clips as of midday Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a national group called Students For Education Reform has been organizing students at CMS high schools and Central Piedmont Community College to speak up for diverse schools.

Despite the talk of common ground, student assignment changes are almost always controversial and emotional, in every city in America.

But newly elected at-large board member Elyse Dashew told the crowd at Carmel Baptist that community mobilization can bring lasting benefits.

“This is kind of my dream, to have 600 people awake and paying attention to what’s happening in our public schools,” she said. “Hold onto this advocacy energy.”

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

Get engaged

CMS

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

▪ Find links, meeting videos and other resources at www.cms.k12.nc.us; choose “2017-2018 Student Assignment Review” under Spotlight. The review page also includes a link to the district’s student assignment opinion poll, open through Feb. 22.

Community

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.

Monday: CMS Families United for Neighborhood Schools will hold a forum on student assignment at Myers Park Baptist Church, 2001 Selwyn Ave., 6-7:30 p.m.

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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