Seven Initiatives to Better Education: A Strategic Plan 2010 for CMS

What kind of school district does Charlotte-Mecklenburg want?
As a community, we have a very clear choice: Will we give our children an education that will prepare them to live and work in a global village where they reach further to compete locally, nationally and internationally?
Or will we settle for staying “pretty good” and then not so good, while other school districts advance? Will our children be left behind because we stood still while others moved forward?
Since my arrival in Charlotte this summer, I have spent months listening and learning. I have met with parents and students. Community leaders and business leaders. Faith leaders and ordinary citizens. Teachers and administrators. Educators and philanthropic leaders. Public officials and public servants. By the end of October, I had met with more than 160 groups in our community.
That input, and the best thinking and planning from CMS executive and senior staff, helped us shape the Strategic Plan 2010: Educating Students to Compete Locally, Nationally and Internationally. This ambitious plan charts our path to excellence with seven major initiatives.

Initiative 1
First and foremost is high academic achievement. I say foremost because that is the overarching goal. We want our students achieving at the highest levels from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. Here are the goals we want to achieve:
• 80 percent of our schools making high or expected growth on the state ABCs; we’re at 54 percent today.
• 95 percent of our students at or above standard on the reading End-of-Grade tests in grades 3 through 8; we’re at 85 percent today.
• 88 percent of our students at or above the standard on the End-of-Grade math tests given in grades 3 through 8; we’re at 65 percent today.
• 80 percent of our students at or above standard on science End-of-Grade tests in grades 3 through 8. End-of-Grade testing in science will begin in 2008-2009.
• 80 percent of our students at or above standard on the End-of-Grade writing assessments in grades 4, 7 and 10; we’re at 52 percent today.
• 80 percent of our students at or above standard on the End-of-Course composite tests given in high school; we’re at 66 percent today.
• Meeting or exceeding the national average of combined scores on Advanced Placement tests — we’re at 42 percent today and the national average is 62 percent.
• 75 percent of our students to meet or exceed the national average on the SAT and to increase the percentage of our students who take this college-required test — 50 percent of our students meet or exceed the national average now, 69 percent of our graduates take the test.
• CMS to meet or exceed the national average on nationally normed tests in math, reading and writing.
Reaching these goals will require dedication from all of us. Where we must get traction if we’re going to succeed with the plan is the classroom, where learning takes place. So we will work on improving classroom instruction in a variety of ways — expanded curriculum, training teachers, finding and retaining the best teachers, improving instruction in specific areas. All of these things must happen together to boost student achievement.

Initiative 2
Our second initiative focuses on building a comprehensive strategy to help us recruit and retain strong teachers and strong principals. There is a national shortage of teachers, and one in North Carolina as well, so CMS must work to make itself competitive and attractive to applicants.

Initiative 3
Our third initiative targets adequate resources and facilities. Adequate resources means making staffing decisions that meet our needs, putting extra teachers in schools where there are high levels of poverty. We know these students require more teaching time and more expertise, and we need to make sure our staffing is allocated to reflect this.
For facilities, we have begun a comprehensive review of facilities planning, including the creation of superintendent’s standards review committees. These committees are reviewing our education and construction specifications that will be used in the revision of our Ten-Year Facilities Plan. We will use that plan to make our funding request for 2007, and I am recommending that most of it — 80 percent — will be for new construction, with the remaining 20 percent on renovations.

Initiative 4
Our fourth major initiative is safe schools. If we are to effectively educate our children, schools must be places where learning can happen without the distractions of inappropriate behaviors. So we will put in place a four-level plan to address student offenses in a more nuanced and appropriate way.
We also need to work more closely with the community to address the larger social problems that come to school with our troubled students. These are community-wide problems that need community-wide solutions.

Initiative 5
Our fifth major initiative will transform CMS from a centralized district into one with geographically grouped learning communities. Certain functions — standards of instruction, facilities management, executive staff work — are best run from a central office, either for reasons of quality or because of economies of scale. But many other services need to be closer to the classroom.
So we’re going to create geographically grouped areas with schools that run from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. We’ll establish it based on feeder patterns so students, parents, staff and the community understand the areas.
We believe that empowering schools, while also holding them accountable for results, is the best way to raise student achievement. Teachers and principals are closest to the students — and they should have the freedom and flexibility to improve student achievement by the methods they think are best.

Initiative 6
Our sixth initiative is to make the district responsive to the many publics that it serves — students, parents, community members and employees.
We will begin with a service audit. We will also develop service standards and hold our employees accountable for meeting them.

Initiative 7
Our seventh initiative will strengthen parent/community connections. Let me emphasize this: These are your kids we’re educating and we not only welcome your involvement — we expect it. Student achievement is linked to the involvement of parents and the community in our schools. Educating our children is a big job and we need your support — parents, citizens, faith communities, business communities, public servants — to do the job effectively.
The Strategic Plan 2010 will help us improve every aspect of CMS and it is vital that we do this. The world is rapidly becoming a global village, and we must equip our children with the skills and the knowledge they will need to lead full, rich lives. If we do not do this, we will have sentenced our children to the only kind of poverty that is permanent — a lack of opportunity.

We must not let that happen. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are rich with possibility. Together, we can make sure our children have a promising future.

The full text of the Strategic Plan 2010 can be accessed at www.cms.k12.nc.us.

Dr. Peter C. Gorman is the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.