Maybe CMS should let parents fix Charlotte’s struggling schools

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has spent millions of dollars and brought in countless new administrators over the past decade to try to help Charlotte’s struggling schools.

Perhaps the next move should be to unleash the city’s parents to do the job.

That’s how things appear to be shaping up in Sedgefield as CMS prepares to implement a new student assignment plan that will reshape where students in the surrounding area go to school.

Families in Dilworth, Eastover, Myers Park and Sedgefield have banded together to form a powerful group that’s pushing for improvements to Sedgefield Middle over the next two years — and it appears like CMS is listening.

Next year, Dilworth Elementary and Sedgefield Elementary will be “paired,” with their attendance zones combined and children split between the two campuses by age. Kindergarten through second grade will go to the Sedgefield campus, with 3-5 at Dilworth.

The following year, the lines that separate A.G. Middle and Sedgefield Middle will be reshaped.

While A.G. Middle is one of the most desirable in south Charlotte, Sedgefield Middle has for years been one of Charlotte’s lowest-performing schools. It has earned “F” grades from the state in two of the past three years, and consistently failed to help students progress on their test scores along the way.

The new plan will spread students from affluent families at Eastover Elementary, Myers Park Traditional School and Dilworth Elementary more evenly across the two schools.

With that transition on the horizon, a group of parents have come together to form a plan for making Sedgefield Middle equal in quality to A.G. Middle from the first day of the new assignments.

While the execution will obviously be key, the plan is impressive. It calls for exceptions to current CMS policies, “innovative staffing techniques and out-of-the-box thinking” — and pledges to help with the hard work to execute it. There are already 60 volunteers on the middle school transition committee.

It outlines a specifics plan for Sedgefield Middle to offer higher-level classes with properly certified teachers and to have comparable quality facilities, athletics and extracurriculars.

I have a hard time imagining that they won’t succeed.

If it does, the question then becomes how to scale the model beyond this little pocket of south Charlotte. How do we empower parents across the city and give them the political capital to demand equal offerings at their neighborhood schools?

We already have a few examples of school turnaround locally, and nearly all of them center around a core group of parents making a difference. Shamrock Gardens Elementary is the classic example, going from the brink of a state shutdown to a school that local politicians tour as a model based on the work of Pamela Grundy and the parent group she brought together.

Similar things are happening at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Quail Hollow Middle, Montclaire Elementary — and I think Sedgefield Elementary and Middle will soon join the list.

I think in some other parts of town, this “paired” school model and shifted middle school lines could make a difference.

[Agenda story: The most gerrymandered school districts in Charlotte]

In other areas, that would be harder. Still, there are parents who want better for their children at every currently disadvantaged school in the city.

The answer might just be to put the ball in their hands and give them the flexibility and support to make things better.

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Andrew Dunn
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Editor-in-Chief