What do you Want Your School to Look Like?
Pondering possibilities for CMS student assignments
There are many questions out there about student re-assignment options for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I spent this morning at a Q&A with board of education member Eric Davis. Davis spoke at a PTA volunteers meeting at my son's school. It was a small group of about 40 moms and a couple dads. Of course we all wanted to know: How may the re-assignment plan affect my child, but many more questions came up.
Right out of the gate, Davis addressed something I've been wondering: Why? Why is CMS messing with student assignment knowing it can be "controversial and disruptive to students," (his words). With the growth of the city and a lack of funding to move money around to support schools with a high-poverty concentration, the board is looking at student assignment as a strategy to reduce staff burn out at high-poverty schools, thus helping to increase student achievement and growth. It's also simply something the board has on its docket to look at every six years.
So how do you address the high-poverty concentrations, keep that academic achievement above deck and not screw up what's working? That's the challenge, but Davis said the board wants to know what parents want in their children's schools as they study models and options for any changes coming to CMS student assignments for the 2017-18 school year.
One parent ask how zones would work as an assignment option. Here's the gist of it: Let's say the county gets divided into four zones. In each of those quadrants, families would have the choice of a neighborhood school, then options to lottery into a STEM, arts, language immersion or magnet program. Ideally each zone has the same options for types of programs, but of course it takes money to make that happen. The choice system would give parents more "voluntary options" to find the best fit for their child without them having to travel across town for certain programs as they do now (he used the example of a family in Huntersville who wants to send their child to the language immersion program that would put their child on a 30-45 minute bus ride to get to school each day).
The board of education is looking at other school districts for models that work. He cited San Francisco (it follows the zone model), and districts in Maryland and Kentucky, as well as Wake County. There also was mention of a consultant coming on board to review boundaries and advise the board.
Lack of funding from the state, county and city was mentioned more than once by Davis as it relates to overcrowded schools, the need for building funds to replace mobile school units, and even money to hire more maintenance workers to keep the wooden ramps clear of ice and snow to those mobile units so we don't miss more school due to weather when the sun is shining. There was discussion of city housing and family stability and mobility and how that all affects high-poverty schools — and a reason for more city/county collaboration with schools, including more funding. Food for thought!
Davis agreed that the student assignment survey (open through Feb. 22) is vague and leads one to more questions than answers, but he said it's one way to get some feedback from parents on what they want in the public schools. A couple takeaways:
- He believes a home school guarantee will be there whatever plan is rolled out.
- Tweaks to boundary lines seem like a possibility depending on where you live, however, he emphasized changing "feeder patterns" needs to accomplish more than one goal without violating another.
- He does not see putting kids on busses and carting them across town as an option.
After the hour-long Q&A, I felt a bit more knowledgeable about the process and all the factors that must be considered in making a plan, but as a parent who sits on a boundary line in the neighborhood, I still feel the answers are as clear as mud.
School choices are abundant, and if CMS parents don't like the outcome of the re-assignment, the board recognizes it could send parents out of CMS into charter or private schools. For that reason, Davis emphasized how much he wants to know what parents want in school choices, and continually ask for suggestions from our group on what we'd like to see.
Bottom line: As Charlotte and the towns around it continue to grow, CMS must flex to meet the needs of changing neighborhood demographics and more and more students. Nows the time to give your input. You should take the survey. Vote for bonds. Stay in the know.