Thursday, September 23, 2010

When schools get a bad name

What can be done when the public perception of a school gets so bad that improvements don't seem to matter?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders have a plan, which they expect to unveil at a Tuesday school board meeting that will map next steps to improve schools that are low-performing, underfilled, too crowded or unsuccessful as magnets.

In the last couple of weeks, CMS rolled out two lists of schools under scrutiny; all total, about 60 of the district's 170-plus schools are on those lists. Mike Raible, the CMS planner who's leading the study, was getting me up to speed when he dropped the intriguing tidbit about burnishing reputations.

I had raised an eyebrow at the notion that West Charlotte's International Baccalaureate program was one of only nine CMS magnets -- and the only high-school IB program -- that met all the school board's new standards for academic accomplishment. (Read the magnet report here.) I hadn't crunched any recent data, but it's the smallest of CMS's IB magnets, located in a high-poverty school that has struggled to attract top students and teachers.

Raible noted that at some schools, public perception becomes so bad that no one notices improvements: "That school could have perfect scores across the board and it wouldn't matter." He said he'll present a proposal on Tuesday, and while he wouldn't tip his hand, he said it won't involve closing those schools (an option that's on the table for schools on "the list") or changing their name (a popular but largely unsuccessful strategy in years past).

The image-changing strategy may be just a footnote Tuesday, but it's interesting, given how many schools have suffered flight when their image slides. The bigger news is likely to come as the board and staff winnow  the cumbersome list and make it clearer what kind of changes could be in those schools' future. I'm still working on a weekend story about what to expect on that front.

9 comments:

Mike said...

You can put a ribbon around mess, but it still is mess. I was going to use lipstick on a pig but I would to pay a royalty charge.

wiley said...

Ann, could you please explain why this school has struggled to attract top teachers?

..but it's the smallest of CMS's IB magnets, located in a high-poverty school that has struggled to attract top students and teachers.

This must be a reality and not a perception then, right? If top teachers are needed at this school, why hasn't Gorman and CMS placed these "top teachers" in West Charlotte?

This is the same argument we hear over and over and over and...you get the point.

Eliminate the excuses!

Anonymous said...

So true. Just the inclusion of a school on a list shakes confidence, as I've mentioned with the inclusion of the high-performing, high growth, low-PCI small schools at Olympic.

Anonymous said...

It's to the point that some of my former students have "moved in" with a grandparent to attend Gaston County South Point to avoid the southwest and west area high schools.

Anonymous said...

Is "Snobidence" a good or a bad name for Providence H.S?

What about the "Crown Jewel" known as Myers Park H.S. or Hough High -"The New Ardrey Kell North"?

Waddell H.S.? Can't help anyone here. Mow about Arthur Griffin H.S. in honor of the former school board member who insisted on placing this chronically underfulled school where it is?

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I do like the idea of Arthur Griffin High to replace Waddell. Then if it ever gets large enough to divide into small schools, those smaller schools could be named after other board members who voted for it (Louise Woods, Vilma Leake, George Dunlap to name a few).

Anonymous said...

Some history of Waddell, from Observer, June 25, 1998: "The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board's decision to buy 130 acres for a new high school and middle school in southwest Charlotte is raising objections from some board members and at least one county leader over the site's location.
``It's extremely illogical,'' said board member Jim Puckett. `There's going to be a lot of pain in populating this school.''

Board members who support the purchase said the site - recommended by the school system planning staff - will balance high school overcrowding in the southern part of the county, particularly at Myers Park and South Mecklenburg high schools.
``By the time that school opens, two or 2-1/2 years from now, you'll see a lot more growth in that area,'' said board Chairperson Arthur Griffin.

Those opposed to the site say the location doesn't ease the school space crunch where it's most intense in the south, such as Pineville or southeast Mecklenburg - and will result in longer bus rides for those neighborhoods to get to the school.
Board Vice Chairperson John Lassiter calls the site ``a real mistake'' and said the location could hurt Olympic High, which is west of the site and is not overcrowded.
``It should have gone somewhere between I-77 and Providence High School (on N.C. 51). . . . There wasn't any real effort to locate land in that area, and there is land in that area.'' (Perhaps where Ardry Kell has now been built?)

Recommendations made by a citizens committee last summer urged board members to chose new school sites with four criteria in mind.
Those criteria include stability, or areas that will cause as few student reassignments as possible; students' proximity to the school; filling schools to capacity; and filling schools in a racially balanced way.

Board members in favor of the southwest site said all four criteria were taken into account. But county commissioner Bill James said he thinks racial balance goals played too much of a role in the board's selection: ``What is the logic and rationale of building a high school and a middle school . . . when the new children are south of that?''

School board member Vilma Leake, who approved the site, said: ``It's not a racial issue when we put schools in sites. We're trying to make sure that accessibility and all those issues are there for our children, and that we're being equitable in the process of putting schools across the district.''
Board member Louise Woods, who also voted for the site, said its location near older, newer and integrated neighborhoods makes it ideal.

wiley said...

Anonymous said...
Some history of Waddell, from Observer, June 25, 1998:


...social engineering at its, um...best?

Anonymous said...

How much money would have been saved if Waddell had originally been built on Ardry Kell's current site rather than on Nations Ford--which would have resulted in taxpayers footing the bill for one properly placed high school rather than two high schools, one chronically underfilled? Remember, the county commission (then led by Parks Helms) had to go along with this. Fiscal responsibility at its, um...best, as well. And we wonder why we're broke today!