OK, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools isn't really participating in the Discovery Channel's annual feeding frenzy. But ever since the state released the 2012 test results and graduation rates last week, I've been diving in and finding scary things that lurk beneath the surface of this nationally acclaimed district.
The flaws in North Carolina's testing and rating system -- and in CMS' execution of it -- are as numerous as, well, fish in the sea.
But on Wednesday, the school board held a somber, thoughtful public discussion of how to make things better. They didn't point fingers. Several members noted the hard work of teachers and principals, even at schools where the numbers didn't look good. They asked serious questions about programs that didn't turn out like they'd hoped they would, and they talked about how to learn from stumbles as well as successes. There was hardly anyone in the audience, which was a shame. If you care about education and you weren't watching live, consider checking out the archived video (the academic report starts at the 1:01 mark).
Contrast that with the celebratory tone Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark struck when summarizing the district's strategic staffing plan for a national publication. Or with the midyear report interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh gave the board on the schools that saw dramatic changes in the wake of closings. That report included raw data that indicated serious discipline issues at newly created preK-8 schools, but those numbers weren't mentioned at the public presentation, and several board members seemed surprised when I raised questions later. Instead, the board heard from one preK-8 principal who talked about good things happening in her school. Based on that, some board members began referring to those schools as a proven success.
I don't know how candid board members and top staff are behind closed doors, or how deep they'd have delved if the press and the public weren't asking questions. But if we hadn't had hard numbers forcing everyone to acknowledge problems, I wonder if the public discussion would have been another round of "Everything's fine!"
Instead, we can expect an in-depth report on strategic staffing, the preK-8 schools and the Harding/Waddell merger (and maybe the Alexander Middle/Davidson IB merger, per board member Rhonda Lennon's request). My hope is that Superintendent Heath Morrison and the board invite principals, teachers, parents and students to hold a frank public talk about what went well, what went sour and how to make 2012-13 more successful. That won't be easy. Board members might have to acknowledge that some of their decisions went awry. Employees would have to be convinced such a meeting is neither a public flogging nor a PR fest.
But Morrison has vowed to rebuild public trust. This might be a chance to show how he handles rough seas.