Thursday, July 22, 2010

Schools close to work

A parent at this week's student assignment forum had a suggestion for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: Instead of just looking at schools close to home, why not let parents choose schools close to work? This dad lives in Huntersville and works in uptown Charlotte; he talked about how tough it is to have lunch at school or get back for after-school events.

It's fitting that the discussion was at Martin Middle School, a former workplace magnet. The whole "governors village" complex -- Martin, Vance High and Morehead and Nathaniel Alexander elementary schools -- was designed partly to serve parents who worked at IBM and other companies in the northeastern University City area.

CMS's Scott McCully refreshed my memory on why that concept died: The 2002 "choice plan" let parents apply for a wide array of magnet and neighborhood schools. Workplace magnets became redundant when parents could select a school near work without giving any reason.

But the choice plan ran aground within a few years. Among the lessons learned: A school that has space one year may soon get more crowded. By admitting students from outside the zone and promising to let them stay, CMS created schools that sprawled into "trailer parks" of mobile classrooms.

McCully cites Eastover Elementary as an example: When the choice plan debuted, it had seats to spare and students opted in. Last year the board scrambled to draw new boundaries to ease crowding, infuriating many neighborhood families.

In 2003, CMS leaders talked about creating a workplace magnet at Billingsville Elementary, just east of uptown in a large, new school. I don't know why that plan died, but I can guess. Billingsville is a gorgeous, light-filled building, just across from the Mint Museum. It's also a school where the overwhelming majority of kids are poor and academic performance seems stuck among the district's lowest.

There are other schools like it near uptown, and CMS already offers seats to students outside those zones. There aren't many takers.

That's not to say the idea of schools close to work is dead on arrival. Board Chair Eric Davis has also voiced interest in the concept.

It's just that, like everything connected with student assignment, it's more complicated than it appears at first glance.

And I can't help thinking there's a new twist: These days, how many of us feel secure that our jobs will last through a school year, let alone provide a stable base for several years of school?


Anonymous said...

Billingsville was not a "gorgeous, light filled building" when far southeast Charlotte students were bused there for many years (until the late 90's). In fact it was dilapidated and dark, as were many schools in Charlotte at the time. In 2003 many probably still remembered the old Billingsville.

JAT said...

Why don't we do to the magnets exactly what the Gantt Commission -- remember THAT dog-and-pony exercise -- suggested?

Oh, that's right -- the magnet mommies freaked.


Anonymous said...

..Billingsville is a gorgeous, light-filled building, just across from the Mint Museum. It's also a school where the overwhelming majority of kids are poor and academic performance seems stuck among the district's lowest...

We were promised by the leadership at the time when the court ruling overturned the busing order, that rebuilding all these schools would fix all the academic gap issues.

We want our money back!

Anonymous said...

In the mid 1990's scores for students bussed into Billingsville were the highest in the system. However, scores for neighborhood children were among the lowest. (This was stated at a PTA meeting by the African American principal--he scolded neighborhood parents for not stepping up to the plate). Were the suburban kids scores high because of the school? And if so, why didn't that effect work for all students? Isn't that how it's supposed to work according to the diversity first and foremost folks?

Anonymous said...

Yes 9:50, it is a known fact to those of us fighting this busing for diversity. There is no need of putting one group of kids through this ridiculous busing time for that result. Additionally, the board just decided to bus magnet busing becuase of the additional costs and now they are going to turn around and add more busing costs for this?

Anonymous said...

The question remains, Are we doing what's best for the children? or Are we trying to build our resume to move up to the next level?

A true leader does not make decisions solely on thier beliefs but through a collective group of people whom are affected by the decision. Please take note of this Mr. Superintendent! Put the children first not your own agenda!