Wednesday, April 3, 2013

K-8 schools: Not just for poor kids

The construction plan that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released last week answers a question that's been looming for three years:  If K-8 schools are such a great thing for kids, why not put them in the suburbs?

In 2010, CMS leaders decided to close three high-poverty middle schools and move the students to elementary schools in west and central Charlotte.  Some families were skeptical of the claim that it was done to benefit students.  School closings,  driven largely by tight budgets,  fell disproportionately on low-income black neighborhoods,  and some saw the merged schools as a thrown-together solution.

Now a new group of leaders are eager to spread K-8 schools around Mecklenburg County. Among the top 50 priorities:

*Expand Davidson Elementary,  a low-poverty, high-performing schools in the north suburbs, to add middle school grades.

*Build a K-8 school in the county's southern tip,  home to some of the most affluent subdivisions and high-performing schools. It would combine neighborhood and magnet seats, with a STEAM theme (that's science, technology, engineering, arts and math).

*Expand Mountain Island Elementary in northwest Charlotte to add middle school grades. Parents and faculty there have been pushing for the change, which would give students the chance to continue a STEM focus in middle school  (see above, minus arts).

*Build a K-8 school in east Charlotte that combines neighborhood seats and a dual-immersion Spanish-English magnet.

*Build preK-8 schools in west Charlotte,  north Charlotte and the Mint Hill area to relieve crowded schools.

All these changes depend on how much borrowing county officials and/or voters approve.  Commissioners have indicated a need to move slowly to avoid debt overload.

The plan makes it clear that Superintendent Heath Morrison  --  and the current board,  assuming they approve the plan on April 23 -- see academic value and popular appeal in K-8 schools.

Less clear is whether that will restore the confidence of urban voters angered by the closings. There's little doubt that the hasty conversion to preK-8 schools in 2011-12 created problems with crowding,  discipline and adequate facilities.  The new plan includes almost $23 million to properly convert the buildings at six sites,  with two others  (Berryhill and Briarwood)  slated for replacement buildings because of the age of the schools.

Last month County Commissioner Vilma Leake,  who represents the west/southwest District 2,  told the school board the closings remain a sore spot for her constituents,  who want to see some or all of the closed schools reopened.  The new capital plan calls for reopening Oakhurst Elementary and  Starmount PreK Center in southeast Charlotte as elementary schools and turning the former Smith Language Academy in south Charlotte into a magnet high school.  But it doesn't address the closed middle schools in Leake's district.

Whatever your thoughts,  the chance to comment is at the April 9 school board meeting.  Click here to find the agenda later this week and for instructions on signing up to speak.


Ettolrahc said...

No really you can kick it this time, I promise not to jerk it away.

Come on Charlie, just try it one more time with us.

Anonymous said...

K-8 Works.........if there is a theme that can be adhered to, a group of visionary teachers, parents, administrators, support staff, and corporate supporters who work their collective rears to make it function. Bruns Avenue, Smith Language Academy, Waddell Language Academy, a twenty year progression that even the Wabbit can agree on.

Pamela Grundy said...

Like all school configurations, K-8 has advantages and disadvantages. It can provide a more consistent experience across the grades than the middle-school model, and perhaps be more family-like. However, smaller numbers in the higher grades mean fewer options for course offerings and extracurriculars than in traditional middle schools. The problem comes when a system assigns some students to K-8s and some to middle schools based on zip codes. If a system is going to offer significantly different 6-8 experiences, parents should be able to choose which one would best suit their children.

Anonymous said...

Ann, you say that when these schools were first established "some families were skeptical....." Didn't activists scream bloody murder that these types of schools would never work? You also say that "There's little doubt that the hasty conversion to preK-8 schools in 2011-12 created problems with crowding, discipline and adequate facilities." But it seems to me that these schools now have largely proven their critics wrong and parents are supportive. Not surprising that there were issues with the start up of a totally new model for CMS--what is surprising is that several issues have been so quickly resolved. As for issues that Pam mentions, I would imagine those will be sorted out also as time goes by.

Anonymous said...

Recommendation to CMS - K-6, 7-9, 10-12

Texas girl said...

YES!!! South charlotte votes YES for the STEAM magnate. Best idea out of CMS in a long time.

Pamela Grundy said...

No one "screamed bloody murder" that K-8s wouldn't work. Parents did point out that research made it quite clear that the K-8 model on its own wouldn't be the blessing that CMS claimed it was going to be. Parents also called on CMS to create the schools one grade at a time, rather than thrusting kids from middle school back to elementary school. If CMS had listened, the well-documented "problems with crowding, discipline and adequate facilities," along with the damage they did to children's educations, could have been avoided.

Anonymous said...

From where I sit the K-8 has not been successful. No support was given to the administrations of the schools when combined and elementary staffs had to assume the duties for the middle school. Sure, there were enough teachers but the support staffs took a hit; required to fulfill the tasks of like staffs at a middle school. The comment about limit offerings for middle school is so true!

Anonymous said...

I would bet serious money that a STEAM magnet never makes it to 28277. What a joke for them to even include that.

Anonymous said...

From a Charlotte Observer article, October 22, 2010, by Ann Doss Helms:

"This was the second forum dealing with plans to close three high-poverty, low-performing middle schools and move most of the students to new preK-8 schools to be created in eight current elementary schools. The first forum, Oct. 12, drew almost 600 people to the Government Center, where two people were arrested and many left angry when the board cut comments short because of crowd size."

Missouri said...

Pam, sounds like the same experience many school systems had when forced to integrate. What if they had taken the more "thoughtful" approach as you suggest? Might race relations be so much better now?

Anyway, never figured out who in downtown still held a grouge on the suburbs for so long to allow so few magnet programs compared to the urban schools. Maybe it was just another case of class envy from the minority crowd.

Missouri said...

Sorry meant grudge.

Pamela Grundy said...

If local school boards had taken the Brown decision seriously and worked to devise systematic plans for desegregation instead of digging in their heels and fighting tooth and nail, desegregation might in fact have gone more smoothly and race relations might well be better now. Shame that didn't happen.

Pamela Grundy said...


Still don't see any screaming bloody murder.

Ann Doss Helms said...

8:46 a.m., I think it's still too early to say anyone has been proven right or wrong. The schools have only had one full year, and results were mixed. A lot of the problems were arguably tied to the start-up, but I think you'll need another year or two to see any clear results. This year's seventh-graders are the first group that moved up from fifth grade, which is the recommended approach. Don't know how you'd gauge parent satisfaction; I suspect some like it, some not, but I'm not aware of any kind of survey.

Anonymous said...

BofE, Jimmy Chancey, Expanded Staff



Ann Doss Helms said...

9:45, I'm hoping you're the person who's been repeatedly asking about CTE and computers. Here's the answer I got from CMS communications chief Kathryn Block this morning: "There are two types of computer labs in CMS schools. Some are called instructional labs and are equipped with either 25 or 31 computers. For example, In elementary schools, there is one lab of 31 computers; in middle schools, two labs of 31 computers; and in high schools, there are two labs of 31 stations and one lab of 25 computers. Standards for instructional labs have not changed recently. In addition, Career and Technical (CTE) labs are provided in middle and high schools and those standards have not changed recently either."

If there's an issue at a specific school, I'd need more details to check it out.

Anonymous said...

But every kid was given a free laptop computer at ProjectLIFT.

Wiley Coyote said...


You were gone for a week.

Dig deeper into the proposed changes for schools, especially Mountain Island.

Wiley Coyote said...

Okay Pam,

Just for giggles, how about give us what your systematic plan would have been to integrate schools.

Pamela Grundy said...

Leadership, leadership, leadership.

Wiley Coyote said...

Leadership isn't a plan.

Pamela Grundy said...

It's how a plan gets implemented. Tell me why you don't think it would have been possible, which is clearly where you're going.

Anonymous said...

Ann, You know their are no tourbles with pre k - 8 schools CMS has told you so. Forget actually asking for data or teachers from the actual scools to expose the issues in the light of truth. CMS wants to build that trust so dont you dare look at the real issues. RIDICULOUS at best. You just renovated Smith to be offices since you could not lease the building. Now transform it to a Magnet High? No wonder BOCC wont budge on budget you IDIOTS CMS.

Wiley Coyote said...

The original suit brough before the court by Brown was correct. He had every right to insist his child attend the closest school to his home.

Seperate but equal never was equal, we all know that.

If school districts across the country had simply followed the ruling and sent students to schools close to their homes, I don't believe public education would have gone into the toilet where it has been since 1970.

With Swann, federal courts used forced busing to achieve integration which was the main reason for white flight.

The one thing the feds could never control was where people lived and for decades under court ordered busing, school systems had to keep gerrymandering lines to try and get as many kids mixed by race as they could.

It didn't work

So was federally mandated busing to achieve integration leadership?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Pamela Grundy said...

Interesting interpretation of Brown, Wiley. But as you say, things would have been quite different if local officials had responded to Brown with something other than "massive" resistance.

Wiley Coyote said...

You still haven't offered how you would have done it, but based on prior comments, you have no problem with using busing to achieve your utopia.

Also, let's hear your "interesting take" on Brown since you seem to think mine is off base.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, I do believe it was actually in the case of Swann Versus CMS that the plaintiffs wanted their child to attend the school closest to their home (which was majority white). The school board had refused to make that assignment, despite the Brown decision that segregation was illegal. If the school board had allowed the Swanns to enroll their child in that school, and if the board had seen fit to make sure all schools were equally supplied and funded, perhaps then we would not have had the tumult and unfortunate consequences of busing. I agree with that the busing did great damage to school systems throughout the country and, ironically, most especially to black communities. The policy left families and local communities detached from the schools their children attended and, along with other factors, contributed to the disrespect and chaos present in many schools today.

Pamela Grundy said...

The Brown cases challenged legal segregation. The fundamental point was the unconstitutionality of legal segregation, not the "right" of every child to go to the closest school. That's not a constitutionally protected right. The Browns and others attempted to enroll their children in nearby schools in order to demonstrate that their respective districts were making race-based decisions, thus making a legal challenge possible. Swann was the same. The Swanns didn't necessarily want their son to go to the closest school. They wanted him to go to an integrated school. They were perfectly happy when he was assigned to Eastover, which was quite far from where they lived.

If leaders in the post-Brown South had been as determined to make desegregation work as they were to protect segregation, they would have worked something out. I won't presume to predict how they would have done it.

Anonymous said...

Pam, One might say the same thing about local leaders following the court decision to declare CMS unitary. Once the decision had been rendered and affirmed by higher courts, if local activists, civic leaders, and Observer editors had not demonized those supporting the decision and had not continually predicted failure for the system I suspect there would be a lot less rancor in the community today.

Pamela Grundy said...

The question would be whether the more accommodating approach that you describe would have produced a more equitable system than the thoroughly inequitable one we ended up with. It's definitely a question worth asking.

Anonymous said...

Inequitable for whom? Also a question worth asking.

Anonymous said...

Most people didn't "fight" de-segregation, they "switched".

Just as they are doing today.

Not much has really changed in 60 years.

For the better, that is.

And no amount of white liberal "guilt" money over the past will ever improve things, either

Anonymous said...

So let the good tax paying "white" folks out with voucher system. It wont hurt the losers who are unmotivated and overbearing on the system. Their parental support is lacking and will for most of their lives we know this. Time to stop making excuses their will always be jails to house them. Welfare for those who dont break the law and free phones provided by Mr. Obama himself. Get the free and reduced lunch , but not on my dime.

Anonymous said...


Find answers. Do some investigative journalism. The answer you got is the company line. Go to Jimmy Chancey and ask is he is removing computers in the CTE classroom to 25 and what about the state mandate of 1 computer per 1 student. Most CTE classrooms have computers, now 25. The classrooms are being filled with 30 to 45 students. Go to the source and find answers. There are hundreds of teachers that can tell you the TRUTH.

AA = Answers Ann

Anonymous said...

Or you can do like Milwaukee did and only let the poor kids use the vouchers.

The only problem with that is that the poor are not smart enough to make good school choices.

So now Milwaukee needs to clean up the mess of so many pathetic schools running off vouchers from the poor.

So that's more guilt money down the drain.

BolynMcClung said...


I attended the closing meetings. It was 100% sure that mothers of 7 year-old girls were not going to let a 16-old man-child still in middle school get near their daughters.

At the meeting with J. T. Williams' parents, probably the worst facility in CMS, 20 parents verbally jumped the CMS facilitor over everything. They wanted CMS to clean-up the school....not move the students.

But, the problem with the outrage wasn't so much the closings but the one-sided which there was no good answer...and without a good answer it was scream bloody murder.....ask Eric Davis and Mike Raible who carried the water on that issue.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Ah yes.


The whole problem nicely encapsulated in a single word.

Anonymous said...

Check the CTE classes in middle schools. Twenty six computers and 35+ students. Try teaching learn how to key without a computer/keyboard. Or ECD STEM classes without the needed equipment or supplies! Requested supples last September, still don't have the supplies.

Wiley Coyote said...


The named plaintiff, Oliver L. Brown, was a parent, a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad, an assistant pastor at his local church, and an African American. He was convinced to join the lawsuit by Scott, a childhood friend. Brown's daughter Linda, a third grader, had to walk six blocks to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, her segregated black school one mile (1.6 km) away, while Sumner Elementary, a white school, was seven blocks from her house.

As directed by the NAACP leadership, the parents each attempted to enroll their children in the closest neighborhood school in the fall of 1951. They were each refused enrollment and directed to the segregated schools.

Linda Brown Thompson later recalled the experience in a 2004 PBS documentary:

. . . well. like I say, we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities. And so when I found out that day that I might be able to go to their school, I was just thrilled, you know. And I remember walking over to Sumner school with my dad that day and going up the steps of the school and the school looked so big to a smaller child. And I remember going inside and my dad spoke with someone and then he went into the inner office with the principal and they left me out . . . to sit outside with the secretary. And while he was in the inner office, I could hear voices and hear his voice raised, you know, as the conversation went on. And then he immediately came out of the office, took me by the hand and we walked home from the school. I just couldn't understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.

Pamela Grundy said...


Thanks for reminding me about the question of the wide age span. I had forgotten that part. People did get very emotional about that issue.


I recommend you pull yourself away from your screen and read a couple of books on legal history. You seem to be having a little trouble understanding what kind of case makes it to the Supreme Court. That would be more productive than swapping stories with like-minded but equally misinformed folks.

Of course, if the folks in Topeka had just let Linda Brown enroll, there wouldn't have been a Topeka case. Wonder how many times they thought about that in the ensuing years.

Wiley Coyote said...


I don't need to know the road to SCOTUS for a legal case.

The facts are, Brown and Swann made it there and the ensuing judgements along with implementing government forced busing killed public education.

You have yet to tell us your vision of how you would "integrate" CMS without busing, especially since CMS is 32% White and declining.

Perhaps you should step into reality instead of living in your "More Perfect Charlotte" fantasyland.

You do that and I'll read up on legal history as it relates to the road to SCOTUS.

Pamela Grundy said...

Why not? It's a useful piece of information.

dscienceguy said...

Ms. Grundy,

Will you please provide your vision of how integration should be achieved? Thank you.