Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rallying around Billingsville

There's a quest afoot to rally families in the Commonwealth Morningside neighborhood to send their children to struggling Billingsville Elementary, according to this article forwarded by reader Jeff Sawyers.

Amy Hawn Nelson of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute writes about the  "save our school"  effort in the context of neighborhood revitalization.  The neighborhood between Central Avenue and Independence Boulevard in east Charlotte has something in common with many others in Charlotte's urban belt:  Desirable homes and undesirable neighborhood schools.

Billingsville Elementary is caught in an all-too-familiar cycle:  It has a history of low academic performance,  which means families with choices opt for magnets, charters or private schools.  More than 95 percent of its students are nonwhite and from low-income families,  some of them homeless or recent refugees.  That increases the academic challenges and decreases the likelihood that middle-class or white families will send their kids.

Neighborhood organizer Michelle Estrada Abels is trying to break that cycle  --  in part because the demise of No Child Left Behind in North Carolina means families will no longer have a guaranteed placement in a higher-performing school, according to Nelson's article.  Abels has created Charlotte Neighbors for Education to lobby Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to add a magnet program that might attract residents with the assurance of a challenging education for high-performing students.

It's tough to get families back to a school that's perceived as failing.  Abels is pinning her hopes on a similar campaign that brought significant changes at Shamrock Gardens Elememtary,  which I recently reported on.

One thing is clear:  The group's timing is good.  Superintendent Heath Morrison is talking about bringing school leaders and neighborhoods together to make public schools more competitive.  It's a smart time for neighbors across Mecklenburg to be thinking about what improvements they'd like to see and talking about what they can do to help.


Wiley Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wiley Coyote said...

Billingsville is a microcosm of what goes on every day in public education and has for decades.

Here's the link to your story the other day, Competition And Common Ground talking about Morrison trying to win back students who have left CMS:

Why would parents want to send their kids to a school where they will be pulled down to another level?

Adding a magnet doesn't solve the problem. All educrats will have done is make themselves feel better and test scores look better. At the end of the day, you still have a segment of the student body that can't function.

I heard a saying once, let me see if I can remember how it goes.

Oh yeah. "Lipstick on a pig"....

cmsparent2010 said...

There is no excuse for failure at Billinsgville except parents. I recall several years ago my daughters elem school PTA "adopted" Billingsville. Red Ribbon Reading prizes at our school stopped and all our money went to a new bicycle for every student at Billingsville who achieved their Red Ribbon Reading goal. That Christmas no less than 18 community groups "adopted" the school. It's not about $$$ - its about parents who care.

Anonymous said...

Billingsville has been coddled and nursed and petted throughout recent history. It was rebuilt far before its facilities were needed because it was deemed to improve academic performance. Which it did not. Billingville also went to the extended school day several years ago to give the students more classtime justifued it woul dimprive academic performace. It did not and simply accelerated the teacher turnover.

Maybe it is time to close the school.

Why should a high performing magnet program be placed here instead of in a suburban school? Check the map of magnet programs. The suburban schools are very under represented. Don't those kids deserve the tax money and learning opportunities of all the other kids. Actually I know most of you do not agree with that. Most of you would rather see CMS not have to serve suburban kids, just keep their parent's tax money and serve only the "urban" kids.

Anonymous said...

Billingsville has actually made a lot of growth over the past few years. That very important fact was left out of this story and the comments section.

Anonymous said...

Billingsville performance scores (composite for the school)

07-08 35.5
08-09 44.7
09-10 36.5
10-11 49.6 (101 out of 103)

I need a little more analysis before I can conclude they are gaining ground or scoring better but everyone else is scoring even better that leaves them near the bottom of rankings. The 11-12 scores should be out in the next month or so.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, when we first moved here, our neighborhood, along with much of far southeast Charlotte (fed from McKee for 4-6), was assigned to Billingsville. When I visited the school before enrolling my child the principal (who was African American) told me that the parents of children bused in were wonderful but that he "couldn't get the neighborhood parents to even walk across the street to the school". He reiterated this at PTA meetings, saying that Billingsville had the highest scores in the city for white kids but that the neighborhood kids and parents were not doing their part. Suburban parents were very strong volunteers (and at that time most of the school had not been rebuilt), many making the almost half hour drive from our neighborhoods to the school several times a week. I remember eating lunch with my child's class and one of the neighborhood kids pointing out the bullet holes in the cafeteria windows. He also told me which streets it wasn't safe to walk on in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

10:23, makes it seem that it is socially irresponsible for CMS BOE to continue to maintain a school in such an atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

Well, if nothing else, it is certainly understandable why parents from surrounding neighborhoods would not want their children to go there (although back in the 90's we would have been accused of selfishness for complaining about that particular assignment).

Anonymous said...

10:39, no, you would have been branded "racists" and CMS BOE had a duty to you to correct the error of your ways.

Ann Doss Helms said...

9:38 a.m., 11-12 scores are up:

Billingsville's composite is 60.1 percent with high growth.

Anonymous said...

Ann, interesting they can do that for 1/3 less $ per pupil than westside schools.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:10Am.

Yes, you are right they have made growth. How about you dig a little deeper. Averaging reading and math is not a true picture of where the children are academically.

Let’s look at the real scores...READING! Math is universal!
The percentage of children reading AT grade level:
11- 38.4%
237 tested...91 can read at their GL
10- 34.5%
165 tested...57 can read @ their GL
09- 24.5%
188 tested...46 read @ their GL.
08- 38.7%
163 tested...63 read @ their GL.

This has nothing to do with the current principal. Arlene Harris and her team are killing themselves to get these scores up. She is respected in the community and applauded for her great efforts.

In 2009, based on CMS data, 811 children were zoned to Billingsville and 402 chose to 'opt out' or go to a magnet school.

This school has been performing at this level for 10 years! Not to mention its 95.5% ED for 2012.

Let's be honest, Billingsville is just an example of another ignored school on the East side. The west side has project LIFT....what does the East side have....NOTHING.

AS of Oct 2012
BES - 95.5% EDS
Winterfield- 94% EDS
Merry Oaks - 93.6 EDS
Somehow the East side of Charlotte schools are on the top of something and it’s not academics or integration. Then they wonder why Eastway, East Meck and Garinger are struggling.
I would like to know who is helping the East side of Charlotte schools. I feel like we have NOT been represented for YEARS!
I bet CMS wishes the middle class had never moved in…..they are making all this noise. Maybe CMS might (MIGHT) have to do something….or just wish we would send our kids there to fix it…… recommended for the last 10 years. RIGHT!

Wiley Coyote said...


Let's be honest, Billingsville is just an example of another ignored school on the East side. The west side has project LIFT....what does the East side have....NOTHING.

These problems go way beyond Project LIFT or thew East side.

At the time, Waddell had just as dismal stats as West Charlotte and West Meck wasn't far behind, yet West Meck, its feeder schools and others, aren't getting any of that LIFT money either - like your East side schools.

The problems with the test scores you and others posted have virtually ZERO to do with teachers and princlipals.

They have everything to do with parents who should not be parents at all. That is the fact everyone dances around and refuse to address.

Education starts in the home. It is up to the public school system to put the product in place to ensure when a child steps on school grounds, they have an opportunity to learn and succeed; nothing more, nothing less.

The situation will not change until school systems get out of the social services business.

Anonymous said...

All above excellent points. Let me add one more. In most other countries around the world, even many developed countries, this demographic would not have gotten a shot at this level of government provided education.

As Ben Bernake pointed out earlier this year (as he was asked about the wealth gap In America), what we have in America in a gap in people taking advantage of the educational opportunity provided for free in America.

You can lead a horse to water but you can not make it drink.

I think we all once believed that children of poverty would need a helping hand up to break the poverty cycle via education. It seems we have yet to learn our lesson that this is not the case. When I and most who post on this blog have pointed out went to school, we were by today's definition poor. Many of us had parents that were illiterate but thatdid not stop most of us from getting advanced education (post high school). The mindset of politicians and community organizers is what is hurting today's kids. Not the education system itself. You still see plenty ED AA kids making it. So it is not the system.

Wiley Coyote said...

You can say what you want about Erika Ellis-Stewart, but here's a quote she made to Qcitymetro when she ran for the BOE:

Ericka Ellis-Stewart: I am passionate about education because it was something that was drilled into me as a child. My mother and grandfather very much lifted up the importance of education in our home. It was really the one that, no matter what, they cannot take your education away from you and the knowledge that you’ve gained. My grandfather had a fifth grade education. He always pushed me to go, obviously, beyond where he went and to always put learning first. Education really is the thing that creates a level playing field.

That my friends is the point I'm trying to make. She had people in her life, especially a grandfather with a fifth grade education who knew the value of education and what it could do for your life.

When more and more in this country expect everything be given to them and they pass that mindset down to their kids, things are only going to get worse. Politicians and educrats are enabling this culture of dependency and irresponsibility.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget about the horrible neighborhood school choices in the University City area. University City has consistently declined in quality, but increased in student quantity and CMS has consistently chosen not address the issues that plaque this area.

dscienceguy said...

And Billingsville teachers, along with teachers at other schools in the state, will receive a bonus for having high growth at a low-performing school. No teacher received a bonus at a school that showed high growth that was high performing. You may read more:

Anonymous said...

At one time, University City area was the poster child of the diversity community leaders wanted. School board members were always reassigning the kids to the struggling schools to keep the scores from looking too bad and getting a volunteer mainstay to these schools.

But then it got hit with the projects closing down, section 8's and starter homes that fraudulently got financed.

I used to live in this area years ago and we changed middle school assignments 3 straight years till I'd had enough and moved out. I am still trying to make the best of a house I can not sell due to all these issues.

Anonymous said...

Are students from Billingsville able to "choice out" based on NCLB laws which allow parents to transfer their children out of chronically failing schools? I'm confused about the law after NC received a NCLB waiver this year.

Shamrock Gardens had powerhouse advocate Pamela Grundy on it's side so no one can say it's impossible to change the perception or direction of a school. Regardless of your political or philosophic views about public education, no one can argue against Pamela's effectiveness. Of course, she didn't do it alone but she was the primary face and voice of the successful reform efforts that took place here. I'm not suggesting that Shamrock Gardens is permanently out of the woods since the demographic makeup of the school is still fragile and test scores still have room for improvement.

I wouldn't send my children to Billingsville but neither would Dr. Morrison, Dr. Gorman or any other CMS leader. I'm glad someone pointed out the "growth" factor which, to me, is just as important as a composite school score. In a perfect world, every child would come to school on an equal playing field. They don't. This doesn't mean you blame teachers for lowering expectations, it just means you realistically address the needs of kids where they are.

I think strong magnet schools are a great asset. However, I have serious reservations about adding more magnets before we make the ones we have the very best they can be. I attended a magnet school and I think CMS has too many. If I were supreme queen for the day, I'd streamline CMS' magnet offerings. The most successful magnet schools attract parents and students based on their unique offerings and strong specialty area faculty. It seems to me that many magnet schools in Charlotte are primarily used as escape routes from undesirable home schools which makes me question if this is really solving the problem or just adding to it. Magnet schools also cost more to operate. I'm of the philosophy that neighborhood schools should be most parent's first choice followed by strong full (not partial) magnet school options.

Alicia Durand

Anonymous said...

Was it Eric Smith or John Murphy who introduced magnet schools to Charlotte? Real magnet schools - not schools with a primary mission statement aimed at promoting racial diversity above programing and academics. Great magnet schools don't need diversity driven task-forces because they naturally attract a wide range of diverse people interested in a particular subject. It's really not that complicated. A great art, foreign language, Montessori, STEM, or IB magnet school will attract a broad spectrum of people willing to travel whatever distance it takes. It's not about ethnicity and race, it's about the program. It's not about escaping a "bad" neighborhood school, it's about the program. Great magnet schools have an aura of "privilege" to them. Great magnet schools aren't a God given "right". I think too many partial magnet schools weaken the entire system. I've never really gotten the partial magnet thing. Full magnets I get. Partial, I don't.


Anonymous said...


As of next fall, if your home school is a high ED and low performing school ( aka title 1 choice) you can no longer 'opt out' to another school or get priority in the lottery. In a nutshell, if you don't get any of your magnet choices you will be sent to your home school....for some Billingsville in its current form.

Anonymous said...

Not good.


Anonymous said...

I didn't realize Title 1 schools had priority in the lottery.

Leaving your child's education up to a random lottery sounds awful. The stress associated with CMS' history of school assignment changes and school closings doesn't help either even if you do get into a magnet school of choice. The instability of the system means you could wake up tomorrow and discover you've been transferred overnight to a different school - it's happened.


Anonymous said...

Long before Smith and Murphy, CMS had an "optional" program of schools consisting of "open" and "traditional". They were still race based entry based on the first court case. Murphy felt offering more magnet programs was better to better address interests and abilities of the varying students. As you know, it was still race based. Smith added a few more schools seemingly happy to hide behind the busing order. Thus the success Cappichionne had overturning the busing order in a situation in a South Charlotte magnet school, I forget which one. Somehow in all of that, the North Meck people got labeled the villains undeservingly. In the court room, it was interesting to watch board members, CMS administrators and staff squirm when the actual order was read out that the intent was not for the busing to be a forever thing but for CMS to clean its act p. Remember all of this came out of a child not being allowed to attend his neighborhood school.

Some decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled it was not the school board's responsibility for race setup of schools if the assignment were based on housing patterns (proximity).

No one with a background in Charlotte had the courage to then take CMS back to court to get the order overturned. The personal attacks the Charlotte Observer editorial board, the pressure by local business and politicians would exert on a person if they worked or did business locally was extreme.

It just seemed convoluted to me for these church going people, who also demanded the pat on the back the back on the church steps for their intentions, then did not follow through with the accountability and the personal responsibility by this demographic.

Anonymous said...

The saddest thing about closing magnets is when one like Oakhurst, that was well supported by parents and community got closed down. THEN CMS zoned all the kids from the Oakhurst neighborhood to Billingsville. How does that work? There is one person on the PTA at Bilingsville. Yes, your read correctly 1.

Anonymous said...

5:52 hit the nail on the head. The self righteous of this city, including church and civic leaders, as well as the Observer editorial board, all were so proud of themselves for their support of busing and oh so indignant that anyone might question its effectiveness. Of course, the dirty little secret was that many of those same leaders had their own children in private schools (during Observer's hay-day of bashing suburban parents the editor-in-chief of the Observer, Jennie Buckner, had her child at Country Day. And no one dared ask for accountability from the community that was supposedly benefiting from the busing.

Pamela Grundy said...

At Shamrock, we had parents from all backgrounds participate in the school, and take advantage of the programs that our partial magnet sparked (many of these programs were available to the entire school, which is why partial magnets benefit a broader range of kids than full magnets). A helping hand doesn't solve everything. But the idea that it does more harm than good is a lot of hooey.

I wish the families at Billingsville all the best. But parents can't do it alone. CMS also has to step up to the plate to provide the human and other resources needed to have a high- level program at a high-poverty school.

Ann Doss Helms said...

As some of you are discussing, the demise of the Title I opt-out is potentially a big change for folks who live in neighborhoods with "undesirable" schools. It used to apply to Title 1 (75%+ poverty) schools that didn't meet No Child Left Behind targets for two years in a row. Students weren't guaranteed a seat in a particular magnet, but they were guaranteed not to have to go to the "failing" neighborhood school.

The NCLB waiver means that guarantee is gone starting in 2013-14. That's potentially huge for some neighborhoods. The Billingsville article I linked to discusses that.

Anonymous said...

sadly, CMS refuses to go an seriously, objectively investigate why these schools are avoided by so many neighborhood families.