Politics & Government

A day after CMS plan, some parents ‘floored’ over new boundaries

New boundary plan for CMS

CMS Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled the new boundary plan on Tuesday evening at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
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CMS Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled the new boundary plan on Tuesday evening at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ proposed boundary changes are not as drastic and far-reaching as some had hoped and others had feared.

But a day after the plan was released, some parents realized their neighborhoods would see a significant impact and scrambled to try to reverse the changes.

Pam Schmitz, who lives in a Huntersville neighborhood that’s being moved from Hough High to Hopewell High, said people are talking about property values declining because of the new school assignment.

“People are hysterical,” she said Wednesday morning. “They’re just hysterical.”

Hough earned an A+ on state ratings while Hopewell is deemed a C school. Hough is 75 percent white and 72 percent high socioeconomic status – a new diversity measure CMS launched this year. Hopewell is 28 percent white and 29 percent high SES.

Schmitz said she has one child at Hough and another at Hopewell who is enrolled in the Cambridge program, a rigorous academic curriculum.

“We’re having a very good experience at Hopewell,” she said. “You can’t explain to them that the (school letter grade) doesn’t predict what your child will do.”

But by Wednesday afternoon, Schmitz said, the social media commentary was tilting toward people willing to give Hopewell a chance.

Superintendent Ann Clark’s proposed changes would affect 75 of CMS’ 170 schools, including new measures such as creating paired elementary schools to increase diversity, breaking up a popular STEM magnet and adding neighborhood zones to what have been full magnet schools.

If approved by the school board next month, the changes would take effect in 2018-19.

In fast-gentrifying Chantilly, students would switch from Myers Park High, a B school, to Garinger High, which has been graded a D.

“I think the neighborhood is feeling a little floored,” said parent Molly Putnam. “We were excited because we just got our new elementary school (Oakhurst) that we have been fighting for. But this will hurt our neighborhood.”

Some are pleased

In some instances, anxiety over the plan was much ado about nothing.

For instance, Providence High in affluent south Charlotte didn’t see its boundary change, despite rumors for weeks that CMS would attempt to bring in more low-income students to improve its diversity.

The town of Matthews, which has discussed forming its own school system, wasn’t impacted significantly.

“I think the mood is pretty good so far,” said Mayor Jim Taylor. “Breezing over it, I think everything in Matthews is OK. The only change is pulling Sardis Forest families into Matthews, and we have been working on that for 10 years.”

Jalen Lowery, a 16-year-old Rocky River High student who went to Morehead STEM Academy for middle school, says he likes the plan to use three schools – Morehead, Nathaniel Alexander Elementary and Martin Middle – to house the science, technology, engineering and math magnet.

Jalen Lowery
Jalen Lowery

Instead of having one full-magnet K-8 school housed at Morehead, the plan calls for all three to have magnet and neighborhood students, with grades K-2 at Nathaniel Alexander, 3-5 at Morehead and 6-8 at Martin.

“I think we should spread the STEM and get the area caught up to speed,” he said. Morehead didn’t really have room for middle and elementary students, he added.

Justin Harlow, who heads the Biddleville-Smallwood Community Organization, said CMS had a difficult task of creating diversity when the city’s neighborhoods are already segregated by race and income. He said he would have liked to have seen the district “be a little bolder” with the plan, especially for west Charlotte schools.

“But ultimately, there is no magic bullet that can solve this issue,” he said. “This gets us closer than we were before.”

CMS boundary
Sedgefield, Alexander Graham and Carmel Middle schools would have their boundaries remade under a CMS proposal released Tuesday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Raised eyebrows

In addition to the Hopewell High and Hough change, there are other proposals that are causing a stir.

CMS plans to make the Marie G. Davis School, which is currently a K-12 military/leadership magnet, into a home school for grades K-8. CMS had already voted to move the high school grades to Hawthorne in 2017-18 and add an International Baccalaureate magnet for K-8. The new proposal would mix assigned neighborhood students with those who opt in.

That will result in a number of changes to several nearby schools, including Alexander Graham Middle, Sedgefield Middle and even a handful of students at Carmel Middle.

Students living near Freedom Park, who are now zoned for Alexander Graham, would move to Sedgefield under the proposal.

“There are going to be some raised eyebrows over that,” said Rachael Weiss of the group CMS Families United for Public Education. “There are people on Queens Road and Freedom Park who are asking, ‘You are taking my soon-to-be middle schooler and sending them from an A school to a D grade school?’ ”

The plan would create three sets of paired elementaries – Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead, Dilworth and Sedgefield, and Billingsville and Cotswold – which will improve diversity by having a bigger district where students attend one school for grades K-2 and move together to another for grades 3-5.

The board plans to hold a public hearing on May 9 and vote May 24.

High school students who face reassignment won’t have to change if they’re rising juniors or seniors that year. That means the first group to be affected will be those who start ninth grade in August.

“Giving parents just a month to weigh in is bad,” Weiss said. “Three weeks is really short-sighted when they went through the changes very quickly.”

Some North Mecklenburg High parents are disappointed they weren’t included in the boundary changes. They were hoping to have more high-income students included in their boundary.

“We are surprised that nothing is changing at North Meck,” said Cindy Stauffer. “When Hough opened in 2009, we were told, oh, just wait until the next reassignment, it will change again. Nothing has happened.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs