Updated 6:30 p.m. -- first of all, here's a link to the transcript that's easier to scan than hours of video.
A report on WBT radio about former Superintendent Peter Gorman's comments at an education conference got some buzz over the weekend, as people circulated the audio clip with their own commentary. By the time it was filtered through County Commissioner Bill James, Gorman was calling board members crazy and describing Bright Beginnings prekindergarten as "the worst."
Neither is true. Jeff Sonier, the reporter who did the WBT report, was kind enough to forward me the full video links to a Sept. 27 Hamilton Project conference on "Promoting K-12 Education to Advance Student Achievement," which featured Gorman as a panelist. What I saw was hardly Gorman Gone Wild. Instead, it was a long, nuanced discussion of education reform, most of which will sound familiar to anyone who heard Gorman speak during his five-year stint in Charlotte.
There is one surprise, which Sonier correctly reported: Gorman tells the panel that CMS research found that "the worst after-school program you could be involved with in Charlotte was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after-school program; the quality was just so poor." (It's at about the one-hour mark in the video of the first session, on "The Power and Pitfalls of Incentives in Education.")
That was news to me. On June 28, shortly after Gorman resigned, the staff gave a routine update on the after-school enrichment program to the board; the PowerPoint gives no hint of quality problems. I know where to look for some research reports that don't get much public airing, but I found nothing evaluating after-school. CMS spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry said this morning that officials have been looking for such a report since WBT asked last week: "We have been unable to locate any research that suggests that." I emailed a public-relations staffer at News Corp., Gorman's new employer, asking that Gorman point me to the research and/or clarify his comments. I got nothing but a prompt "no comment."
New: At day's end, spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte says CMS officials believe Gorman was talking about a report on after-school tutoring, not the after-school program. But she said Gorman himself has not made that clear to CMS, and neither the report nor anyone who can talk about it will be available until tomorrow. Here's a story on the after-school question.
The after-school program serves school-age students. Gorman did not discuss the quality of Bright Beginnings, which provides full-day education to 4-year-olds whose skills put them at risk of falling behind in kindergarten. The cost of that program has been controversial, and James has been critical of spending county money on pre-K.
As for school board "craziness," it's no secret to CMS-watchers that Gorman had his clashes and frustrations with board members. But the video doesn't show him "poking fun at his former bosses," as Sonier's WBT clip indicates. Gorman introduces the after-school comment by praising the board for being willing to spend money on research and evaluation, even during a budget crunch. During the second session, on start times, grade configurations and teacher assignments, Gorman does make the quoted remark that "there's a huge disconnect with what goes on at a school board meeting and what goes on in a school," and that "I often viewed my job ... as to protect our staff from the craziness that goes on at a board meeting" (all this is at about the 35-minute mark). But he prefaces that comment by saying "I enjoyed the board I worked for," and follows up by talking about the unlimited number of public comments that open many meetings. "You might as well say, 'Why don't we try to get as many people to come and try to take us off target as possible,' " he says.
In a third panel on "New Assessments for Improved Accountability," Gorman talks about how the current teacher evaluation system overstates the number who are successful -- a theme he sounded for at least a couple of years in CMS, as he pushed to change the way teachers are evaluated and paid.
Sonier and WBT are right about one big point: Gorman has refused to speak to local media about CMS since the June day he handed in his resignation, and that does lead people to wonder what was on his mind when he left. For those with time, the Hamilton Project discussion provides some intriguing insights on what he thinks about incentives for students and teachers, starting schools later and making performance pay work. But it's hardly throwing CMS under the bus, as the Pundit House blog labeled it.
With the exception of the after-school comment (I'll report more on that if and when I can find the research he's talking about), Gorman struck me as positive about CMS. If anything, he erred on the side of optimism. For instance, he talks about closing "large, low-performing middle schools" and sending the students to K-8 schools. "We didn't then put the children in low-performing elementary schools," he says. I suppose that depends on how you define "low-performing," but some of the elementaries that added grades 6-8 logged among the district's lowest scores in reading, math and science in 2011. When I asked Gorman about that issue before he left, he said was pinning his hopes on principals' plans to reverse that kind of performance.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Updated 6:30 p.m. -- first of all, here's a link to the transcript that's easier to scan than hours of video.
Friday, October 28, 2011
The N.C. school report cards for 2011 are out. They're always a good source of data on districts, traditional public schools and charters. I haven't had time to geek out and run comparisons yet, but I figured I'd give my data-savvy readers a heads up in case you've got a slow weekend. If you're new to these, remember to click the tabs for student performance, safety and teachers.
And if you've got even more time, remember the WTVI interviews with school board candidates will air from 4-6 p.m. Sunday (or you can watch them online at your leisure).
And on Tuesday, WFAE will hold a live panel discussion on "How Should We Grade Our Teachers?" It's at Northwest School of the Arts, 1415 Beatties Ford Road, from 7-8:30 p.m., and will feature CMS teachers, the human resources chief and the director of the Charlotte Teachers Institute. Make reservations if you plan to go, or follow on Twitter at #WFAEPubCon.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Here's my latest theory about the school board election: Most people don't care, but those who do are putting a lot of energy into it.
I wish the first part weren't true, but history shows about four out of five Mecklenburg voters won't bother to cast a ballot. As I've noted before, this year's roster of candidates is long and relatively little-known, which makes it a lot of work to get informed.
What's impressive is how many people are doing that work, and how engaged they are. Last week's interactive debate got a live audience of 175, with another 78 watching live online.
I'm also hearing from people like Christine Mast, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent who lives in Huntersville. Even after reading and watching candidates' responses to various groups (she was in the online audience last week), she didn't think she was getting good enough answers. So she sent them her own six-question survey and posted the answers on her CMS-related Facebook page (you have to scroll down to Oct. 17; Facebook is not the ideal forum for a long Q&A).
Randy Forsythe, an Irwin Elementary parent, polled the candidates on their thoughts about the extended school day, to prepare for a PTA meeting. I suspect Forsythe and Mast are just a sampling of the people who are peppering the candidates with questions about the issues they care about.
I'm also impressed by how hard the candidates are working to answer the barrage of queries. The eventual winners are just beginning a stretch of hard work and public criticism, and everyone who's still campaigning seems determined to show they're up for it.
Now we're in the final stretch of the campaign, so we'll soon see what combination of position statements, forums, ads, tweets, yard signs, poll workers and other campaign strategies it takes to propel three of 14 to the top.
And for those who are wondering, the Observer's school board endorsements are slated for publication Sunday. I'm not part of that process, which is conducted by the editorial board.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Does Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have its first "90/90/90" school?
Many readers are probably familiar with the label, coined by professor/author Douglas Reeves for schools where 90 percent of students are poor, minority and performing on grade level. It's an ambitious goal that signifies a school has broken the link between poverty, race and academic failure that frustrates educators across the country.
This summer, Devonshire Elementary was ready to celebrate. With a 93.7 percent pass rate in math (and the accompanying high levels of poverty and nonwhite students), it meets the standards laid out by Reeves of having 90 percent on grade level in one key academic area. But Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark told the school board Tuesday night that she wants 90 percent proficient in both reading and math before anyone claims the label, because both skills are essential to continued academic success.
Devonshire Principal Suzanne Gimenez was one of three principals of high-poverty schools who talked to the board about trying to break the poverty/failure links. She's also one of the original seven principals former Superintendent Peter Gorman recruited to start his strategic staffing project, which strives to turn around schools with teams of high-performing administrators and educators. Of those seven, she's among only three who are still in those schools for a fourth year (Gorman asked for a three-year commitment).
Clark said she hopes to see Gimenez claim the "90/90/90/90" label at the end of this year, with nine out of 10 students earning grade-level scores on reading as well as math.
Speaking of bragging rights, some of you have probably noticed the CMS web site is sporting a dual logo these days, with the "Broad Prize for Urban Education" logo alongside the district's. CMS has also asked all employees to attach the logo to their CMS emails, sparking some groans among those who are leery of the Broad Foundation's approach to education reform.
Board member Kaye McGarry raised the issue Tuesday night, saying people have been asking "Since when did Broad purchase naming rights to CMS?"
Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said CMS' selection as the 2011 Broad Prize winner was "an honor and a privilege" that validates the hard work of employees and students, and the district plans to proudly claim the label this school year. "If anything," he said, "it's a positive thing for this community and this district."
Monday, October 24, 2011
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board will vote on a plan for supporting beginning teachers at its meeting tomorrow.
It's not clear to me how much is new and different in this plan -- teachers, feel free to weigh in -- and how much is just putting things in writing to meet state requirements. The plan calls for volunteer mentors. From what I've heard, such mentoring programs can range from wildly successful to perfunctory, depending on the skill and enthusiasm of the mentor, the chemistry between the mentor and beginner, the support from school administration and the time available for mentors to observe and coach. (Update 10/25: Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh clarified that it's the latter. There's nothing new here, but the state now requires the school board to approve the plan for beginning teachers.)
There's a widespread sense that this is a time for CMS to rebuild confidence and morale among its teaching force, which has been battered by layoffs, pay freezes, new testing requirements and a rocky start to district performance pay effort. New teacher work groups started meeting last week to chart the next phase of the effort, which has been dubbed the Talent Effectiveness Project.
As always, I'll be eager to hear the view from the front lines.
Friday, October 14, 2011
I enjoy seeing teens step up and take part in this year's school board campaign. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students introduced the candidates at an Oct. 3 forum that drew about 150 people to the Stratford-Richardson YMCA.
Students from Youth Voice, a program of Kids Voting Mecklenburg, will take part in Wednesday's interactive debate, sponsored by MeckEd and WFAE, and helped interview candidates for the WTVI program that will air from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 30.
Of course, this year's election is a breeze compared to the political hurricane headed for Charlotte in September 2012. The Youth Voice crew is also taking part in Charlotte Teachers Institute panel tonight on "Exploding Canons: The Changing Landscape of Political Conventions."
I'm sure a lot of teachers, college professors and youth-group advisors are cooking up ways to tap into the energy the Democratic National Convention will bring -- not just the president and the country's leading Dems, but protestors, media and pundits. If you've got any good real-life civics projects in the works, please keep me posted. It's going to be a fascinating year for people across the political spectrum.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
How much does Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spend at your child's school? How do academic achievement and student-teacher ratios stack up? Find out on the new interactive maps produced by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and MeckEd.
I haven't had time to wade into this data, but my first-blush reaction is that this will be a great resource to parents, taxpayers and people considering a move to Mecklenburg County.
Ironically, even as CMS has embraced "data-driven" as a mantra, it has become harder for people to find basic data about their schools. I 've always found the district's "Data Dashboard" hard to use, and as the communications staff has shrunk, updates can be slow in posting. I created what I considered a user-friendly school guide for our web site, then abandoned it when our own cutbacks made it difficult to keep up. N.C. school report cards are good, but this time of year they're out of date.
So let me know what you think of the new resource. (Full disclosure: Former Observer columnist and blogger Mary Newsom, who's now with the Urban Institute, helped create this.)
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tuesday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting could be a tad confusing for anyone trying to keep up with the flying stats. Here's a bit of mop-up:
There were references to a 93 percent graduation rate for students who participated in Communities in Schools; board members were told details were coming later this week. Here's what CIS Executive Director Molly Shaw shared when asked about that report:
Here are our updated stats for 2010-11:
· CIS provided case management services to 5,735 students in 44 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
· 88% of CIS students had an Average Daily Attendance rate of 90% or greater. (Corrected 10/13; Shaw's first note said 93 percent.)
· 99% of CIS students stayed in school.
· 93% of CIS students were promoted to the next grade
· CIS also served over 140 students in Jail North and Jail Central, 93 teen mothers through our Safe Journey/APP program, and hundreds of additional high schools students through our college access Trio/Talent Search program.
Shaw also said 93 percent of seniors taking part in CIS graduated -- but that's not the same as a 93 percent graduation rate as calculated by the state, which looks at ninth-graders who finish four years later. "While we are proud of this outcome, this is not a cohort graduation rate so we want to make sure that folks do not misinterpret that number," she said.
During the meeting, board member Trent Merchant made a series of dramatic statements about the 1,368 CMS students who would have to be added to the graduation rolls to make 90 percent. He said today that was a quick calculation, which he realized shortly afterward was wrong.
Last year CMS had 6,878 graduates, out of 9,359 who started ninth grade four years earlier, for a 73.5 percent on-time graduation rate. To hit 90 percent it would have needed 8,423, an increase of 1,545 students. This year's numbers would be different, based on the number of ninth-graders who started in 2008-09. Merchant's point, he says, remains unchanged: It's not impossible to change the fate of a relatively small number of teens.
Finally, the board approved another piece of its financial plan for getting public opinion on the superintendent search. Neither reporters nor members of the public who attended the meeting had documentation to see what they were working from. Here's the $10,000 contract with Carolina PR, which CMS provided today. Board members also had a 13-page memo from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, which apparently dropped its price from $18,400 to $10,000 during the course of the meeting, outlining the online survey that will debut Oct. 24. I got a paper copy as I left the meeting; I've requested an electronic copy and will post it when it lands. Board Chair Eric Davis confirmed today that Central Piedmont Community College, Johnson C. Smith and Queens universities will not be paid for their consultation on the survey.
This year's decision to add 45 minutes to elementary school days and put several schools on a later schedule is exhausting young children, cutting into homework and driving parents nuts.
Or ... it's a boon to working parents and a blessing to kids who can sleep later in the morning. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board heard both views Tuesday night.
Six parents gave the board their take on the new "bell schedules;" four dislike them and two said thanks.
Michael Herndon said the longer day means his first-grade daughter gets out of school at 4:15 p.m. "burned out," because she has more class time without "a chance to go outside and recharge." Kym Furney, a parent at Carmel Middle, said a 9:15 to 4:15 p.m. schedule means adolescents have little time for after-school activities and are doing homework at 10 p.m. or later. Susan Harden, who has kids at Cotswold Elementary and Randolph Middle, brought a sign saying she's ready to start "Occupy CMS." That's "kind of a joke," she said, but urged the board: "Please listen to the voice of parents and change the late bell schedule."
But Meredith Sutton said she just moved her four kids from a charter school to Cotswold, and they're benefiting from the seven-hour day and the chance to sleep in. And Tanja Franke said she no longer has to pay for after-school care since her kids are staying until 4:15. "I thank you for the break," she said.
There was no board vote or discussion of school hours. That's likely to come in late fall or winter, as officials plan for the 2012-13 year.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Near the end of tonight's school board meeting, expect to hear Tim Morgan float a plan to use savings from CMS outsourcing to provide teacher bonuses.
There won't be a vote or discussion. A lot of things have to happen first. In spring, the Privitization Committee that Morgan helped create will report on whether members believe CMS can save money by letting private companies take over such things as busing, cafeterias and building maintenance. If that group identifies potential savings, the board and superintendent would decide whether to pursue outsourcing. Assuming they could approve a plan, take bids and award a contract in time, there might be some money to put to use in the 2012-13 budget.
So why bring it up now? It's campaign season.
Morgan, a district representative running for an at-large seat Nov. 8, is the closest thing to an incumbent on the 14-person ballot. A lot of the others have taken aim at unpopular decisions Morgan and his colleagues have made, from closing schools to rolling out new tests to rate teachers.
"All they've said is, 'I wouldn't have voted the way the board voted,' " Morgan said this week. "Our teachers have gone three years without any sort of increase. This is the only idea that would impact teachers in a positive way."
Morgan said he plans to suggest the bonuses, which he'd like to see linked to teacher performance, during the board members' individual reports at the end of the meeting.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Even as N.C. education officials are eliminating some state exams, they decided last week to require all juniors to take the ACT in March to gauge college readiness. The state will pay $5.5 million to provide that test and a lead-up test for sophomores, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. State officials hope to get federal permission to scrap the 10th-grade writing test and apply that money toward the ACT.
Meanwhile, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has completed another 125 tests to gauge the basic skills of kids from pre-K to grade 12. Unlike the dozens of year-end exams that drew flak last year, partly because of plans to use them for rating teachers, these "formative assessments" are designed to be given during the year to size up student needs.
Here's what Chief Information Officer Scott Muri reported to the school board: "The assessments address the four major content areas of math, language arts, science and social studies for middle and high school. Elementary schools chose to stagger the formative process by beginning the year with math and language arts. Science and social studies will follow later in the year. For young students (pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade), we developed five performance tasks that will be administered throughout the school year. Schools will set the administration times to best meet student needs and school schedules."
I know this blog has been politics-heavy lately, but I hope some educators are reading and can weigh in on how this is working. Teacher comments have provided a reality check for all of us -- reporters, school board members, parents and others -- who are trying to make sense of this from a distance.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Elyse Dashew still leads the 14-person pack in raising money for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race, but Keith Hurley found an interesting way to make good on his September promise that he'd have at least $30,000 to report by now.
Hurley, a BB&T mortgage banker making his first run for office, has raised $6,825 from other people as of this week's campaign finance report. But he's also lent himself $50,800, bringing his total receipts to well over $57,000. (You can look up all reports here; the newest are labeled 35-day reports.)
Hurley says he doesn't actually expect to sink $50,000 of his own money into campaigning. "I don't buy shirts unless they're two-for-one," he said. But he said he expects donations to pick up and wanted to have the money available.
Dashew, also making her first run, has taken in almost $31,800 so far, including $3,000 she loaned herself. She reports donations from an array of education, civic and business leaders (including $500 from retired banking titan Hugh McColl). That puts her well ahead of Tim Morgan, whose $15,550 lands him second-highest. Morgan has also landed the backing of various leaders, including $500 from his brother, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce President Bob Morgan.
Also cracking the five-figure mark: Aaron Pomis with $10,545 (including $2,500 in donated web design) and Ericka Ellis-Stewart at just over $10,000.
Others are Mary McCray at $9,000, including $1,100 from herself; Lloyd Scher at $8,800, including almost $2,300 in loans from himself; Hans Plotseneder at $8,300, including $6,550 in loans from himself; Darrin Rankin at $5,150, about $1,150 in loans from himself; Ken Nelson at just over $2,900, with $2,500 of that a loan; and Jeff Wise at $855.
Lisa Hundley filed a report showing $3,150 raised, but has now withdrawn her candidacy because she learned her cancer has returned. Larry Bumgarner filed a statement at the outset saying he wouldn't raise or spene more than $1,000, and DeShauna McLamb hasn't filed anything since her organizational reports in March.
The real question is how money and/or endorsements will translate to votes. Dashew, who is unaffiliated, won't have either party touting her, though she is garnering support from prominent Democrats and Republicans. Endorsements seem to be spread around enough to make it a hot competition for those top three spots when the votes are tallied Nov. 8.
The next finance reports are due Oct. 31.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
The 2011-12 enrollment numbers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools provide a snapshot of schools going through big changes (read the CMS report here and the Observer's chart here).
For instance: Last year Harding High was a magnet school with just under 900 students, 86 percent of them African American. Now that CMS has closed Waddell, a neighborhood high school, and moved many of those students to Harding, it has grown to about 1,770 students, with a larger Hispanic population. (Of course, enrollment numbers can't answer questions about what will happen to school culture and achievement, since the merger blended one of the district's highest-performing schools with one of its lowest.)
South and West Meck, which picked up parts of the former Waddell zone, also grew. West added about 300 students, for a total topping 1,800, with little change in demographics. South went from about 2,000 to 2,373, with white enrollment going from 52 percent to 44 percent.
Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology picked up some of the former Harding magnet students, growing by almost 200 students to 1,455. It remains majority black and Hispanic.
Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership Academy, which has struggled to fill its classrooms since it opened in 2008, added an elementary component, making it CMS' first K-12 school. That roughly doubled enrollment, from about 350 to just over 700. Each grade remains small, ranging from about 78 in middle-school grades to a senior class of 24 (last year Davis had nine graduates).
The K-8 language academy formerly known as Smith, which changed its name and location when it moved into the Waddell building in August, shows no major changes in enrollment or demographics.
Alexander Middle in Huntersville grew from about 600 to 850 with the addition of the Davidson IB magnet program. The merger of a majority-white magnet and a majority-black neighborhood school has yielded a student body that's 45 percent black, 38 percent white and 11 percent Hispanic.
Finally, some in the north have been warily watching changes at North Meck since Hough High opened last year, carving off the northernmost and most affluent territory. North had about 2,163 students in 2009-10, 61 percent of them white. Last year, with Hough's opening, it dropped to 1,726 students, 35 percent white. That included most of the 12th-grade class from the original zone, since CMS doesn't force seniors to switch schools. This year it's down to about 1,590 and 23 percent white.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
About 150 parents, teachers and students showed up at the westside Stratford-Richardson YMCA last night for a "speed-dating" forum with 13 of the 14 candidates for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. Each candidate sat in a circle of a dozen or so people, spent five minutes fielding their questions, then moved to another circle when the whistle blew. By the time the night was over, everyone had spent some time with each candidate. Participants and candidates said afterward it was a good experience.
The organizing groups -- Coalition for Strengthening Community Education in Charlotte, Communities In Schools, Council for Children’s Rights, Freedom School Partners, Grandparents of America, Latin American Coalition, Leadership for Educational Equity, Mecklenburg Ministries, New Leaders for New Schools, Teach For America-Charlotte and Time Out Youth -- asked participants to offer final thoughts.
One urged the candidates to be wary of philanthropists offering money for school reform. Another asked them to keep a watchful eye on the new preK-8 schools to see if they're working.
"Be truthful and do what you say you're going to do if you get elected," said one adult.
Loan Tran, a junior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, had the final word, directed at all the adults in the room: "Voting is a privilege. When you cast a ballot, you're voting for students like me."
Meanwhile, the campaign gets ever more intriguing. There are now two Democratic "tickets" vying for the three seats in the nonpartisan Nov. 8 race. On Saturday, in a meeting marred by false fliers telling people to stay home, the Mecklenburg party's executive committee endorsed three of the eight Democrats on the ballot, urging party members to unite behind Aaron Pomis, a charter school teacher; Mary McCray, a recently-retired CMS teacher; and Ericka Ellis-Stewart, an active CMS parent, to avoid spreading votes too thin.
On Monday, three of the Democrats who got left out unveiled their own "unity" ticket. Former County Commissioner Lloyd Scher, newcomer and CMS parent Lisa Hundley, and Darrin Rankin, who has run for Charlotte City Council and recently resigned his seat on the Democratic executive committee, are touting their budget savvy and party credentials.
Republicans might be enjoying the rift, but they've got challenges of their own. After two of their four original candidates dropped out, the party is currently backing the ultimate odd couple. Tim Morgan, who already represents District 6, is running at large on a platform of continuing the work launched by the current board majority. Newcomer Ken Nelson wants to scrap it and start fresh -- abandoning the national superintendent search, cutting ties to the national philanthropists who have provided guidance and grants, and eliminating the CMS testing program. (Keith Hurley, who changed his registration from unaffiliated to Republican last month in hopes of getting party support, so far hasn't landed an official endorsement.)
Among the campaign managers and supporters who hovered around last night's session, there was buzz about what cross-party coalitions might emerge before voting begins. Commenters on this blog have offered their own speculation -- one suggested Morgan, Pomis and unaffiliated Elyse Dashew as the likely choice of "a rough alliance of voting parents and the business community."
And finally, a campaign mystery: While 13 people are spending this month dashing from one campaign event to another, DeShauna McLamb seems to have fallen off the map. She was the first to formally announce her candidacy in March, and one of the first to file in July. But since then, she hasn't appeared at forums or responded to questionnaires. She never created a campaign web site, and the phone number listed with her filing gets a "not a valid number" recording. I've emailed her, gone to the address listed on her filing and left a note in her mailbox asking what's up: No reply. She hasn't pulled her name off the ballot, though, so at least on paper, she's still in the running.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Casting an informed vote in the Nov. 8 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board election is a lot of work. There are 14 candidates, and few are household names. Their views vary so widely it's hard to imagine anyone could be neutral about who claims the seats.
Video interviews done by the Swann Foundation and Mecklenburg ACTS offer a great chance to hear the candidates at length, in their own words, sorted by 10 topics. And you can do it at the time and place of your choosing, with your favorite beverage at hand. Biggest drawback? There are literally hours of material. I spent most of Friday morning and got through two questions.
My advice: Pick a question you care about -- topics include testing, distribution of resources and prekindergarten -- and use the answers to shorten your list to explore further. The more controversial the question, the better for sorting. The superintendent search brought lots of thoughtful, articulate and mostly similar answers. But listen to the answers about diversity, student assignment and educational equity, and I pretty much guarantee that no matter where you stand, you'll scratch some folks off your list.
That question is, as candidate Larry Bumgarner points out in the video, a loaded one that strongly reflects the views of the host groups. But my take was that the candidates who held different views expressed them just as clearly as those more sympathetic to the interviewers. I'm curious whether others agree -- and whether anyone else has tips for making a choice. For those who prefer reading, MeckEd and the local real estate/construction PAC have posted candidates' written answers to their questions.
The Swann videos are shared via YouTube, which leads to some unexpected entertainment when each clip ends and the YouTube algorithm decides what you might like to see next. There are links to archival video, such as Darrin Rankin speaking as the lone Democrat at a Tea Party event during his City Council bid and Ericka Ellis-Stewart being interviewed by former United Way Director Gloria Pace King. Jeff Wise's video steers you to another Jeff Wise jumping out of an airplane for "extreme fear and adrenaline rushes," while Keith Hurley's sends you to another Keith Hurley taping some dude's monologue about "Cleveland sucks." It gets more creative: Mary McCray suggests Larry McCray's Soulshine. Hans Plotseneder brings up a link to a Han Solo clip. And Ken Nelson, inexplicably, ends with a link to someone doing a cover of Coldplay's "Trouble."