Friday, October 8, 2010

Pride or prejudice?

"It's about to get ugly," school board member Joe White said as open-mike time approached at last night's forum on school closings and other changes.

Maybe so. From what I've seen, most board members, parents and educators have worked hard to keep a civil, respectful tone during months of talks about student assignment. But now that it's down to specifics about closing and merging schools, tensions are high.

Every school district in America will tell you that making kids switch schools is the toughest issue they tackle. Inevitably, one school is seen as better than another. And let's face it: The less-desirable school is generally the one with lower-income families and more students of color.

Soon after I started this beat, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools drew new boundaries for south suburban schools, all of which were high-performing and well regarded by most standards. But I kid you not, I heard parents complaining that neighborhoods of $200,000 and $300,000 homes were being treated like slums by folks whose homes were worth twice that.

Last night, the tension surfaced between Davidson IB and Alexander middle schools. Today, parents are miffed at each other, at me and at board member Rhonda Lennon, who represents that part of the county and weighed in on what she saw as disdain from Davidson IB families toward the poor and black students at Alexander.

The DIB crowd turned out in force, and most of their comments focused on how wonderful their school is. It's hard to argue that point. Who wouldn't want their kids to attend a small school that's nationally recognized for academic excellence, where kids who expect to work hard apply for admission and where a charming town embraces the school?

But CMS officials say they can't afford it. They've proposed closing DIB, saving the cost of renovating the aging building and putting a bigger International Baccalaureate magnet into Alexander, which has seats to spare. A cash-strapped district saves money and more kids get the chance to take part in the challenging academic program, they say.

Inevitably, some DIB families highlighted the reasons they believe a move to Alexander would be disastrous:  It's too big. It's not as safe. The kids don't work as hard.

"I don't want to disrespect Alexander, but a lot of them don't want to learn like we do," a DIB seventh-grader said. An adult referred to Alexander as "a factory school."

It's hard to blame the Alexander crowd for taking umbrage. "What it really comes down to is fear of change, if you listen to them," one man said.

So how do race and class play in? That part is hard to nail down.

DIB is majority white, but hardly homogeneous. This year's tally includes 143 white students, 65 blacks and 15 each of Hispanics and Asians. Last year about 1 in 5 DIB students qualified for low-income lunch aid (this year's tally isn't in), compared with just under half at Alexander. Alexander is 49 percent black, 31 percent white and 12 percent Hispanic, making it one of CMS's more diverse schools.

The DIB student who talked about how Alexander's kids "don't want to learn like we do" is white. But the next DIB speaker was a black student who had moved from Alexander to the magnet "because of the way kids treat you if you're smart." One of the parents worrying aloud that kids wouldn't be safe at Alexander was African American.

Perhaps the best insight I heard came from DIB seventh-grader Sophie Swallow, who compared merging the schools to "trying to force two families into the same house."

Her point was how difficult that is, and no doubt she's right. But divorce, remarriage and -- especially these days -- economic hardship force plenty of families to merge. A lot of CMS "families" are likely to find themselves sharing quarters next year. The challenge is how to make it work.


Anonymous said...

Thanks as always for your insightful reporting. I feel the pain of parents from DIB, but making the move to Alexander makes sense. However, the move that is in the works for UCPA to merge with FW does not. A couple of points to ponder: 1. First Ward is a landlocked school that if CMS tried to renovate would only be MORE cost prohibitive than UPCA, plus it is a nighthmare to get through given traffic flow during peak hours. 2. Both FW and UPCA are at capacity, meaning that even IF the proposed magnet was year round, at most 50% of the students currently housed at either school will find themselves shipped to other schools, something I am sure BOTH schools parents should be upset about. 3. UPCA is a magnet school that has gained much praise and recognition over the years for its innovative arts centered approach. First Ward does not have the track record of achievement that UPCA has garnered over the years because the program has been moved so many times!!! Additionally since UPCA and NWCA are a stones throw from each other allowing for the ease of continuity in students going on to NW to remain intact.
A better option would be to move Villa Heights to First Ward... Expect a lot of push back from the community on this.

wiley said...

Sacred cows no longer exist.

Make the hard decisions based on fact and logic and move on.

Unfortunately, up until this time, facts and logic are nowhere to be found. If they were, CMS wouldn't have gone through the magnet transportation fiasco starting the school year, only to turn around a month later and propose tearing it all to pieces next year.

Eliminate all extracurricular activities and save millions.

Anonymous said...


I sat-in on the Torrence Creek breakout session. Their plight was different. Their school is neither old or under utilized. It is new and stuffed. Transitioning students is the CMS goal. Parents don't want this. They are comfortable with their situation. CMS isn't.

When the meeting started they had a twenty reasons for what they wanted. When they left they still had their ambitions but also had a new understanding that if they were to accomplish anything they had to show CMS that Torrence Creek parents' ways had cost savings for the operational budget.

Joe White said things are about to get ugly. That can be prevented. Though it will be extremely difficult, parents must look first at where they can help the school system save money.

This doesn't mean rolling over to the CMS staff. It means meeting the staff's suggestions with equally sound budget ideas.

I think Joe White is wrong. The parents aren't going to get ugly; they're going to get smart!

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

You have done a good job here talking about how difficult school assignment change is. Unfortunately very few people see this blog--but many many people will have read today's Observer article. The article did not contain any of these explanations or examine the actual population of Davidson IB. It just quoted Rhonda and commented that race and class tensions were involved. So what does that make many throughout the county believe? I am sorry to say that I think you have done a real disservice to the community with today's article. Not up to your usual standards!

Anonymous said...

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

Nicolo Machiavelli

Anonymous said...

The kids always know the real story better than the parents.

After all, it's their skin on the line every day.

They know who and where the thugs are and how they will be treated.

So, of course, they're concerned.

Larry said...

All we need are those magic Asian kids.

Yes we just need to hire them and have them come here and be in every class.

After all if having the right mix person setting beside someone is the key, then having the absolute right person beside these students is the right key.

When I volunteer I see the Magic Asian Students blow the top off the bell curve in any class they are in and their parent, parents, guardian, or who ever is taking care of them is always in touch with the teacher almost every week. They are scary polite and you can depend on them to have homework done.

So I say we spend some money and get Magic Asian Kids in all our schools so we don't have this fighting anymore.

After a while osmosis will take effect as it should have over these last fifty years and every one will be above grade level.

Anonymous said...

The families @ DIB should visit Randolph Middle School to see how successful their IB program is. Then maybe they can relax and get over themselves.

Anonymous said...

I agree with October 8, 2010 5:44 PM--DIB parents and kids need to come to Piedmont IB and see the success that we have had here.
30+ different cultures, languages and trains of thought coexist and actually thrive here. DIB folks, take a healthy dose of reality and get in the real world. Your kids will benefit from emerging from your safe little nook, and living in a real world with other folks from all iver the world. It's not called an "International" program for nothing, you know.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the rivalries between universities. Noone wants to admit that their alma mater is inferior to say UNC, Harvard or Duke, so they either attack the messengers who can prove they are or argue otherwise without merit. Whether Randolph Middle or Piedmont IB or Alexander, none compare to Davidson IB. Davidson is the creme de la creme of CMS and it is proven on every front. Unfortunately we live in a society where achievement is seen as the province of the wealthy students or those with supportive homes and must be punished. I don't blame those Davidson IB parents and students for mourning the loss of the greatest thing CMS has going and for being confused as to why any child should be expected to take a step down in his/her education.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one am glad that me and my kids took a step "down", and learned to be able to interact and relate to those kids who were not the usual Merita Sandwich Bread variety. Through PIB, we learned to understand and accept those who were (to start with, anyway) strangely different from us. We learned tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect. And you know what? Suprisingly, we learned that our cultures are all for the most part solid, and the bottom line is that we all want the best for our kids, and we want all of them to go on and make the world a better place for THEIR kids.
DIB is a fantastic school in both the CMS system, and the national system. However, if these parents choose to be petty and refuse to stretch their thinking beyond what they do within their walls and their small class size, how will they be able to teach their chidren to stretch their efforts out into the World's boundries and make it a better place?? Again, "International" reaches far outside of Charlotte Mecklenburg, and if you are really wanting your DIB kids to embrace that mindset, you won't be so selfish as to allude yourselves to believe that a small enrollement is the best for the IB program.
To you middle school parents, I can guarantee that only a few of you have given any thought as to the intense and rigiorous curiculum that your kids are going to have to go thru in High School in the Full IB program--if you even choose to send your kids to an IB High School. It's unbelieveably tough and insanely intense. Only a small number of kids are going to go all the way and win that IB diploma. Right now, all you are looking at is the fact that your middle school kids are getting a private school education at a public school cost. Go outside of the box, people. Commit to the IB program only if this is what you want for your child to do all the way thru graduation.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see what Randolph parents had to say if their program was suddenly slated to be moved to McClintock (or any other middle school for that matter). Would they all say, "Okay, we're ready to go."?

Anonymous said...

Alexander/Blythe are my home schools. I appreciate the comments around successful magnets other than DIB. Piedmont IB (from reading the web site) is a full magnet. The discussion is to convert the school into a partial magnet. We have not met CMS standards in testing for the past several years. In meeting with school board members was informed the key to our success was reducing the overcrowding. Thus Highland Creek and Ridge Road opened. We have seen improvement in our scores. Now we're adding students back into the school. I think the IB program is fabulous, but I have to agree we need to find a way to offer a FULL magnet to the children in our zone. The DIB program is a great program and should be able to succeed as a full magnet. Alexander and Blythe have great teachers, and they should have the chance to teach in manageable class sizes and continue to grow the performance of our school.

Anonymous said...

All dissenters of DIB are jealous of its success. If I could get my kids in there, I would. I wish neighborhood schools could experience the same type of ingenuity, creativity, and rigorous curriculum that DIB offers. I can't figure out why Gorman would want to dismantle a beacon of light in this district. There are plenty of moldy and dilapidated schools in CMS that no one cares to even look at, let alone bother.

Allison? said...

OMG are you kidding me? here's the thing at DIB: we are not racist. people are concerned about the welfare of education. i actually was at Alexander, then got moved to DIB the 3rd day. the 2 days i was there, it was horribly boring and the teachers were already having problems with some of the students in some classes. tho most of the "bad" students were at the new school. i cannot believe the corruption of cms! what happened to education first? it's become more like, "money and power for the officials" first. and yes, we don't want to let go of this school, but it's because the plan isn't lined out and well defined. if we knew the details, we would consider it, but where are they in the announcement? where's the data, the facts? we aren't guinea pigs for a "money saving" experiment! and people know about diversity here. we may not have as much as other schools, but it really doesn't matter here. everyone pretty much gets along most of the time, and everyone knows each other, and every teacher. it's ridiculous. my mum looked over the plan, and showed me the reports for Alexander and DIB and some other schools. Alexander is "not well developed" in the 2009-2010 year. DIB was "well developed" when there was a new principal in 2007! how are you going to mash those 2 schools together? we aren't a cooking recipe! plus, the money saving will only last for a year. short term plan. it takes a LONG time to be top school. and what happened to needing to evaluate the school for the IB program? what happened to that? i may be 12, but i can still see something is very wrong here and very corrupt. look over the proposal. where's the details? where's the proof this is going to do well? what about the teachers?

Anonymous said...

The projected budget shortfall for 2011-12 is $14.8 million, why can't Gorman save the new $15 million to cover that like he took the $20.5 million from the jobs money! We don't need that money to train teachers, he's already turning that over to TFA and Gates...we already know what's a best practice! Teachers are inundated with that stuff! Smoke and Mirrors...follow the money. We need a federal, state and county audit! Something's fishy. Hurry up before they cover it all up! If you eliminate these Title I schools, where are the records going to go that track funds? His budget paperwork already only includes summaries....we need specifics, school by school! We need an investigation by Washington and Raleigh! He thinks we are dumb southern hicks! Or he believes he and his cronies will be gone by the time we uncover it all. They will have their pay for performance bonuses because they will have sacrificed and "led the way". Pete is masterfully slick!

Anonymous said...

Just and idea.... how about CMS sell the building to all the people that want to keep their kids at DIB, turn it into a private school, and put the magnet at Alexander Middle. WIN-WIN!

More kids get access to the magnet and all the people that want to stay at DIB- can do just that!

I am sure CMS can offer them a really good deal on this falling apart building that can be nothing but a school- sell it as is- desks and art supplies included!

Ms. Campbell said...

Bottom line: What is the reason for closing DIB? That has become LESS clear, not more clear as this has developed. The code enforcement employee at the forum made it clear that repairs could be made to DIB without spending anywhere near $8 million. Obviously the academic achievement of the students isn't a problem. That leaves Rhonda Lennon wanting to move the best magnet middle school in America to Huntersville. Did you know that Ms. Lennon is a real-estate broker in Huntersville? I wonder what effect that move would have on property values in the Alexander MS area. Something to think about . . .

Anonymous said...

I think the truly intriguing thing here, is that Lord Peter may finally have overreached. After years of getting whatever he wanted, by turning economic crisis into a feeling that only HE could save us, the Board is finally finding that are things they could say no to.

I think the speed with which he has ramped up his rhetoric on Pay For Performance, which is still (beating that dead horse) completely UNSUPPORTED by research, shows how he is aware that his great Design is about to fail.

He has quickly moved on to the next thing.

Anonymous said...

I think that we all need some straighteneing out. I am a 7th grader at DIB, and yes, we didn't want to move. But please understand that it has nothing to do with race or income rates. We DIBers didn't want to move because we are happy where we are. We love our school and so many kids have been much more inspired to learn.
Now, my fellow students and I understand that many people view us as "rich, snobby, white" kids, but please believe me when i tell you that this is untrue.
We have dilapitated textbooks, paint peeling everywhere, and water that doesn't always taste right. We have no "new, and awesome" technology, and we defintely aren't rich. We are all ranging in middle to low class. There are no children who come to school in limo everyday, flaunting their pocketbooks. 1 in every 5 students at our school is on a lunch plan.
As you have probably read in the other comments, we are not admittedly the most diverse school, but we are far from all caucasian. Alexander is a great school. It has a good program and a great building.
The reason that children from DIB don't want to move to JMA is not becasue we think that they are "dumb" in some way, just that so much of our cirriclum and happiness would be lost in the move. We are constanly interacting with college students, and going outside to an outdoor classroom. (Just a clearing in the woods) CMS officals are under a false impression that our school, cirriculm,and results can be picked up and moved. So many things will change, and nothing is insured.
Sure, all DIB teachers get to stay with us, but valuable positions such as secretaries will most likely not. Now, I understand that the decision is made. There is no changing CMS's mind, but I hope that people will not keep this dismal impression of us. We not mean, and are not all rich white geinuses.
Right now, CMS has announced that Dr. Jo Karney will be the new princpal of Alexander IB. Immediately, she set to work on setting up conjoined parties at the end of the year, along with staff meetings with both sets of teachers and a meeting between student councils.
Practically everyone posting comments, thinks that DIB is snooty and that we are just going to brood, but we are doing everything that we can to make the best of this move, and I'm sure that Alexander is doing the same. Its not about the past anymore, we need to press forward, meet new people, and work for a better CONJOINED product.
Sophie Swallow
7th grade
Davidson IB Middle School
(I would just like to make a statement concerning posts belitiling us from PIB and Randolph. Particually PIB. PIB is a full magnet, so their situation is completely different than ours,as CMS does not plan to even expadn our program next year. Randolph, I am very happy that it worked out for your school, but you must know from experience that changing and conjoining schools is hard. Yes, we are afraid of change. Who isn't? And you shouldn't blame us for trying to preserve what we have.)

Scary Clown said...

Being a DIB student I wanted to stay at DIB but I do not think that the kids at JMA are stupid and I am certainly not racist. However with all the success that DIB has had in the TWO years I don't think it is a wise to close down such a high performing school. The girl who said that they don't like to learn hardly pays attention in class so I think she need to shut her mouth. Also why does CMS not pay any attention to Piedmont IB. Just because it is in the inner city does not mean it should be left out of the issue. CMS is gonna close almost all magnet schools and just leave Piedmont and Randolph out of it? DIB will certainly be remembered in the Davidson community.