3 brutal choices the school board is going to have to make

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Three weeks ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools unveiled its long-anticipated plan to change how students are assigned to schools. To make a long story short, it wasn’t as dramatic as people thought it would be, but even small changes are a big deal if it’s your neighborhood school.

School officials have spent the time since then holding meetings around the city to gauge the community reaction. Neighborhood associations have also gathered to determine their response.

Based on this week’s school board meeting, it appears that CMS won’t be budging on the bulk of their proposal. But revised proposals show that the board will have to make three tough decisions during their final vote next week.

Dilworth and Sedgefield Middle

The Dilworth neighborhood is part of the biggest experiment in the CMS student assignment plan. Dilworth and Sedgefield elementaries are being combined into a single attendance zone, with children attending Sedgefield for K-2 and Dilworth for 3-5 (Cotswold and Billingsville elementaries are doing the same thing).

[Agenda story: Dilworth, Cotswold elementary schools to be “paired” with low-income schools under CMS proposal]

The pairing appears to be a done deal, and families are really coming around to it.

The decision the school board will have to make involves the middle school. Dilworth Elementary had continued on to A.G. Middle. Now it would go on to Sedgefield Middle, which has a much lower grade.

The weird thing about school quality is that it’s largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. If affluent parents all send their kids to a school, it magically becomes “better” on standardized test scores. If they decide the school isn’t good enough, the scores go down.

So that’s what’s at play here with Sedgefield Middle. Neighborhood boosters want to be careful to get buy-in from Dilworth on a school that’s long had a negative reputation.

What’s on the table? The school board could decide to slowly phase in the transition to Sedgefield Middle. They could make Sedgefield Middle a partial magnet. They could also, of course, abandon the middle school thing and keep the kids at A.G. Middle.

A group of Dilworth parents actually came up with their own plan called “Two Great Middle Schools” that appears to be head and shoulders better than what CMS came up with.

It would loop Eastover into the mix and actually create two strong middle schools. The initial indication was that the district didn’t view this as a realistic option for 2018. But I just heard last night that CMS has been holding meetings on this, so it very well might happen.

Let’s hope so.

Chantilly and Oakhurst STEAM

The original CMS proposal would take the affluent Chantilly neighborhood and send their kids from Myers Park High or East Meck High to Garinger High (again, with a lower letter grade).

The neighborhood met and discussed the proposal and decided to fight. They instead want their children to go to the Cotswold/Billingsville combination, then A.G. Middle and Myers Park High.

This is kind of ironic because Chantilly practically begged to be zoned for Oakhurst STEAM only two years ago. They had been assigned for Billingsville and told the school board they didn’t feel that was a realistic option for their kids. They got their wish and were moved into Oakhurst STEAM. Now they’ve abandoned it already.

Anyway, the school board is going to have to decide whether to make them happy or risk losing them again.

I guess it’s good that they’re throwing their support behind the paired schools.


Morehead STEM

This school is perennially one of the most coveted magnet programs in Charlotte. The CMS proposal would essentially blow it up, sending the middle grades to James Martin Middle and combining the elementary grades with Nathaniel Alexander Elementary a la Dilworth and Cotswold.

These schools would also now have a home school zone, making it a partial magnet.

Morehead parents haven’t been thrilled with the idea of changing the most successful and diverse magnet programs in Charlotte. The school board will likely go through with it though.

The final public hearing and vote is set for May 24 (Wednesday).

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Andrew Dunn
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