This week's announcement of a new "partnership school" being developed on West Boulevard highlights a new twist in the CMS/charter dynamic. It's a model Superintendent Heath Morrison says we'll see more of in the future, in the suburbs as well as inner-city neighborhoods.
|Renaissance West senior center|
But the recession hit and construction money dried up. The Renaissance West Community Initiative, a nonprofit created by the housing authority, shifted to planning a charter school. If the application had been approved, the nonprofit board would have gotten public money to open a preK-8 school in 2015. The group was scheduled for an interview with the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board in May.
Renaissance West is a "cradle to career" community, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty with a mix of high-quality child care, public education, health care and support services. Charter schools are a crucial piece in such national models as the Harlem Children's Zone and Atlanta's East Lake revival. The latter spurred creation of the Purpose-Built Community Network, which RWCI is working with.
|Site for Renaissance West Neighborhood Academy charter|
In 2013, Mecklenburg voters approved a $290 million bond package that included $30 million to build a school that would relieve crowding at Reid Park and Berryhill preK-8 schools. It would have gone near the proposed charter, potentially competing for students.
Meanwhile, Morrison and Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark were talking with the RWCI crew about merging their efforts. Executive Director Laura Clark said her board saw two big advantages to working with CMS: The nonprofit board won't have to raise construction money, and CMS can draw boundaries that ensure the Renaissance West community is served by the school. Charter schools take applications and, if there's overflow demand, have to admit by lottery. If the community charter school had proven successful, she said, neighborhood students might have been turned away on luck of the draw.
RWCI won't have the clout of the Project LIFT board, which got joint power over academic and personnel decisions at nine westside schools by merit of a $55 million, five-year pledge. But CMS and RWCI say the partnership will be a serious one, with both groups and other community partners represented on a school leadership council.
At a Wednesday news conference, Morrison said he's talking to other existing and prospective charter boards about the advantages of working as part of CMS. He noted that some of the state-authorized schools, which aren't part of local districts, are struggling: "So many individuals think they know how to run a school, only to learn there's so much that's so complicated."
I'm guessing some will see this as a CMS bid to squelch competition, while others will see a perfect example of how competition can improve the broader system of public education. One question I felt certain would arise: Will CMS be equally receptive when a more affluent suburban neighborhood wants to develop a partnership school for its community?
Absolutely, Morrison said. He anticipates a similar relationship with south suburban Ballantyne residents when the district starts working on the K-8 neighborhood/magnet school authorized for that area. That school, budgeted for a bit over $31 million, is expected to open in 2020, the last item in the 2013 bond package.