Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Your Schools blog has a new home

The Charlotte Observer has a new website, and that means Your Schools has a new location and a new look. You can check it out here.

I've loved how involved the comments have been on this blog. Hope to see you over at the new site. And you can always send me an email at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CMS to try out early-release days next year

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will try out four early-release days next year as a way to give teachers more time to develop their skills.

The school board approved the tweak to next year's calendar at the same as they allowed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to become a holiday.

Other districts, including Wake County, have incorporated early-release days into their calendars for years.

The scheduling is still being worked out, but most schools would let out about two hours early. There will be one per quarter. Next year's early release dates will be Oct. 7, Jan. 20, March 1 and April 20.

Superintendent Ann Clark said the time would be used for professional development for teachers.

These are the most educated neighborhoods in Charlotte

If you live close to Freedom Park, there's a one-in-three chance you have a graduate degree.

The folks at research firm FindTheBest crunched some federal data to determine the areas of Charlotte with the highest percentage of people with graduate degrees. Here's what they found.

Charlotte, North Carolina


The area of south Charlotte just north of Pineville-Matthews Road has a strong showing in the numbers. The trendy Plaza Midwood and Chantilly areas are also up there.

Overall (and unsurprisingly, given it's a metro area) Mecklenburg County has a larger percentage of people with a graduate degree than the state and country as a whole. Meck clocks in at 12.9 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for North Carolina and 10.8 for the U.S.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

CMS to tweak next year's academic calendar

Good news, teachers: You're now likely going to have the day before Thanksgiving off of work. But you'll also have to report for duty a day earlier in the fall.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is planning to ask the school board at next week's meeting to approve a few changes to the academic calendar for the 2015-16 school year. It took me a few moments to figure out the changes, but here they are in a nutshell:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 25 (the day before Thanksgiving) goes from a teacher workday to a holiday.
  • Monday, Aug. 17 becomes a teacher workday. It previously hadn't been on the calendar. That Tuesday through Friday has been workdays before the start of school Monday, Aug. 24.
  • June 13, 2016 comes off the calendar. It had been a teacher workday. The last day of school is June 9.

Take a look at the calendar first approved in May here. Here's the proposed revised calendar.

Monday, February 16, 2015

State rep: Charter schools need more financial oversight

Charlotte Talks on WFAE had a strong lineup on the panel this morning for a discussion of education in North Carolina.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark was there, as was Gov. Pat McCrory's senior education adviser (Eric Guckian) and state Board of Education chairman Bill Cobey.

But I what most caught my ear were some comments from N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Weddington.

In response to questions about several Charlotte-area charter schools that had failed this year, Horn said that North Carolina needs to do a better job of making sure a proposed charter has its financial house in order.

"Charters need to be held to a higher level of accountability on the finance and governance side," he said.

He said that lawmakers had focused a lot on making sure charter school academics were up to snuff, but now needed to shift.

Here are a few more things that stood out:

  • Clark said CMS would be hosting five to six "teacher voice sessions" over the coming months for teachers to talk about what would create a better working environment for them.
  • Cobey said that the state will require virtual charter schools to provide children they accept with a computer and Internet access if the student doesn't have access.
  • Cobey also said charter schools have struggled in Mecklenburg County because CMS has done a good job offering choices to families.
  • Guckian said McCrory's goal is to move toward one electronic device per student in every N.C. school.
Listen to the conversation yourself at this link. It will also replay on the radio at 9 p.m.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Charter schools got letter grades, too. Did they outperform CMS?

Even though all the attention was on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools when letter grades were handed out to each campus in North Carolina last week, charter schools got letter grades, too.

The results? It's very close (and probably debatable), but CMS appears to have done better than the county's charters.

(Go ahead and scroll to the bottom of this post if you want to look up your Mecklenburg County charter school's grade. Look up any school in the state here.)

Here's the grade distribution for Mecklenburg County charter schools:

  • Four schools earned an A (27 percent)
  • Two schools earned a B (13 percent)
  • Three schools earned a C (20 percent)
  • Four schools earned a D (27 percent)
  • Two schools earned an F (13 percent)
CMS had 41 percent of its schools earn grades of A or B. That's one percentage point higher than the county's charter schools. A larger percentage of the county's charters also earned failing grades (7 percent in CMS).

Of course, there's a much larger percentage of "A" charter schools in the county than in CMS (27 percent versus 11 percent). Another caveat: Since there are a lot fewer charter schools in the county, that also can throw off the percentages.

Here's the grade distribution for charter schools statewide:
  • 13 schools earned an A (10 percent)
  • 37 schools earned a B (30 percent)
  • 35 schools earned a C (28 percent)
  • 22 schools earned a D (18 percent)
  • 17 schools earned an F (14 percent)
Charter schools did much better than the state as a whole. Statewide, only 29 percent earned an A or a B.

I haven't heard much about this yet, but these figures are sure to reinflame debate on whether this charter school boom in the state is serving students well.

Here's the grade for every Mecklenburg County charter school. New schools don't have grades because they're based on last year's end-of-grade test scores.

School NameOverall gradeOverall scoreReading gradeMath gradeGrowth targets
Aristotle Preparatory AcademyD50CFMet
Charlotte Choice CharterF34FFMet
Charlotte SecondaryC63CCMet
Community School of DavidsonA87BBExceeded
Corvian Community SchoolB78BBMet
Crossroads Charter HighF35NotMet
Invest CollegiateC63BDMet
Kennedy CharterD45DFExceeded
KIPP CharlotteD54DDExceeded
Lake Norman CharterA88BBExceeded
Metrolina Reg Scholars AcademyA94AAMet
Queen's Grant Community SchoolB75BBExceeded
Socrates AcademyA85BBMet
Sugar Creek CharterC60CCExceeded
The Community Charter SchoolD40DFNotMet

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Superintendent job requires Ann Clark to move to Mecklenburg County

Even though Ann Clark has been with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for decades, her new job as superintendent is requiring her to move.

Clark has long lived on the shore of Lake Norman in Mooresville. That's in Iredell County. State law, however, requires school superintendents to live in the district that they lead.

I just got a hold of Clark's contract, and it states that she is to move to Mecklenburg County "as soon as possible." The CMS communications staff hasn't gotten back to me on whether she's moved yet. Her contract does not mention the district covering any relocation expenses that new superintendents typically get when they come in from out of town.

See Clark's contract here.

The contract also mentions that Clark won't be considered for the superintendent's position "long-term." If she is in the job on June 1, 2016, she'll be eligible for a bonus.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Less than 1 percent of CMS students are unvaccinated

Immunization is again a hot topic after a string of measles outbreaks at Disneyland, in a Chicago day care and elsewhere. If your child is in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, there's only a very small chance the student sitting next to them hasn't been vaccinated against the disease.

State law requires public school students to show their immunization history before being allowed to attend class. But it allows two exemptions to the rule: for medical reasons, or for religious belief. North Carolina does not have a "personal belief" exemption.

A total of 617 students in CMS this year were not vaccinated under one of those two exemptions. That's less than one half of one percent of the more than 144,000 students in the district.

Religious exemptions accounted for 504 students. Medical exemptions made up the remaining 113.

CMS requires six vaccinations for children entering kindergarten. Most require several doses:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
  • Polio
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B
  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Varicella
If you're looking to get your child vaccinated, here are some places that will do it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Could a high school come to uptown Charlotte?

If a group of uptown advocates has their way, Charlotte will have a high school in the center city some day in the near future.

Led by Fourth Ward resident Jeffrey Robinson, the group has put together a website,, and plans to start a petition in the near future. They're also discussing suitable plots of land.

The vision: to create a magnet or charter school that draws from all areas of the city, connected by mass transit.

It's little more than an idea right now, but Robinson said he is trying to rally support among Charlotte's leadership.

There may actually be an appetite among CMS administrators for something like this. A few weeks ago, Superintendent Ann Clark referenced the possibility of an uptown magnet school that partners with a museum like the Mint.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Guilford County Schools extends Mo Green's contract

Mo Green
I've seen some rumblings in the blog comments here about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools wanting to bring back Maurice "Mo" Green to be the new superintendent.

In case you forgot, he was the CMS general counsel and later deputy superintendent before being named to the top job in Guilford County Schools.

Not sure if this news would have any bearing on Green coming to Charlotte after Superintendent Ann Clark leaves in 2016, but here it is: Guilford County Schools has extended Green's contract through 2018.

The district also said that for the sixth year in a row, Green has turned down the raise owed to him in his contract. His salary is $250,000.

Here's what the school board chairman up there, Alan Duncan, has to say about him:
“Mo richly deserves any of the raises that have been offered to him, but yet refuses to take them in solidarity with the employees and what the employees have had to go through. That is a rare individual.
I hope people in the General Assembly are listening, because our schools are being handicapped by not having our employees get the type compensation which they are genuinely entitled with the very high levels which they perform, and our superintendent sets an example that it’s a team effort and a team needs to be rewarded, not just our brand new starting teachers.” 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Entrepreneur High making public appeal for survival

When the state Board of Education voted to revoke the charter of the all-but-defunct Entrepreneur High, it left only a small sliver of possibility for the school to ever reopen.

It's unclear whether the charter school's board is going to pursue it, but that hasn't stopped its leaders from launching a public opinion campaign in favor of the school.

This is the school that reported having only $14 in the bank while holding classes. Entrepreneur High ended up closing its doors last month. When the state board voted to revoke the charter, it afforded them 11 days to appeal the decision. By my count, that window expires this week.

The state Office of Charter Schools told me that they haven't received any word from the school on an appeal.

But it sure looks like the school's chairman, Robert Hillman, has been laying the groundwork. He set up a petition in favor of reopening the school that has gotten 300 signatures so far. He's also coordinated a letter-writing campaign that's filled my inbox with notes from parents and students at the school and targeted the state school board.

Here's an example:
Click to enlarge

Hillman has not responded to my requests for comment on whether the school will appeal.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: The school has appealed. Read the story here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Here's how CMS is preparing principals

At last week's "State of our Schools" speech, Superintendent Ann Clark mentioned how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is focusing on developing principals. A recent report from the Wallace Foundation gives some more specifics about what the district is doing.

CMS is one of a half-dozen districts across the country to receive grants from the foundation to work on their principal pipeline. They got $7.5 million over five years, beginning in 2011.

The report describes some of the programs CMS has set up. A few things they've done:

  • Created a set of "super standards," or things they're looking for in a school leader. Take a look at an early version of them on pages four and five of this document. They were updated in 2014 to include these. District leaders also got together to come up with rubrics for grading principals on the metrics. For example, how would an aspiring principal demonstrate "belief in children"?
  • Required principals to take a university preparation course. Before, principals were encouraged to complete one, but alternatives were allowed. Now, CMS told the Wallace Foundation, aspiring principals need to do one of these courses with Winthrop, Queens, UNC Charlotte or Wingate and the alternatives are being phased out.
  • Tweaked the criteria for entering the principal "talent pool" from which CMS hires leaders. Changes have alternated between being more and less restrictive, and one person interviewed said CMS has yet to hit the "sweet spot." 
  • Created a five-year support program for new principals that begins with a "consultant coach" and ends with a capstone project with the McColl Center for Art and Innovation.
  • Added an executive director of leadership development

Friday, January 30, 2015

CMS will hire teachers and hope for the best

Budget time always carries a bit of uncertainty for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools because of how much the district relies on the county and state government. This year, that uncertainty has been kicked up a notch, and the school board has to hope it doesn't come back to bite them.

You may recall the state legislature's decision last year to no longer automatically give districts more money commensurate with enrollment growth. Basically, CMS knew that if they had, say, 2,000 more students, then they would be sure to get money for more teaching positions to cover the  growth. That won't happen this year, a difference then-Superintendent Heath Morrison called a "radical change" to education funding.

CMS said this week that it expects 2,400 more students for the 2015-16 school year. But will the district receive money for more teachers? Probably, based on promises made by legislative leaders, but no guarantee.

So CMS is going to go out and hire them anyway.

Sheila Shirley
Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley told the school board Tuesday that the district plans to go out and hire the best teachers they can this spring, when most of that hiring is typically done. By the fall, when CMS will know exactly how much money they'll get, it would be too late.

Superintendent Ann Clark and Shirley said that if the money from the state comes up short, CMS will find money to pay the teachers elsewhere instead of laying them off.

Board members gave their blessing for the plan.

CMS is also banking on entry-level teacher pay rising once again, to $35,000 from the current $33,000. Shirley said that was part of Gov. Pat McCrory's plan.

The discussion was the first on the budget in 2015. There will be budget workshops the next two months before Clark's recommendation comes out in April.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Millard House a finalist for Tulsa superintendent

Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief operating officer Millard House is one of two finalists for the superintendent's job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Tulsa World reported and then confirmed.

House is a Tulsa native spent the first two decades of his career there as a health and PE teacher, principal and administrator. In 2003, he was the Tulsa Public Schools Principal of the Year.

He came to CMS in 2012 and left only a year later to become the executive director of New Leaders, a national nonprofit that trains administrators of high-poverty schools.

House was previously a finalist for superintendent in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Will CMS name an interim superintendent?

Mary McCray
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn't technically have a superintendent right now. That might soon change.

School board chairwoman Mary McCray said Wednesday that the board would meet in closed session next week to discuss a potential interim superintendent. She said the discussion would not involve setting the stage for a search for a permanent superintendent, since that needs to be done in public.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark has been leading the district without a job title change since former Superintendent Heath Morrison resigned in November. She has said she would be open to serving as superintendent if the board desired.

McCray didn't say whether they were specifically looking at Clark. But a significant portion of the community has backed her to lead the district for the long-term.

The district has chosen an interim superintendent the last two times the superintendent has left. Hugh Hattabaugh was interim superintendent after Peter Gorman left in 2011. Frances Haithcock was the interim after James Pughsley retired in 2005.

Later start times for high schools isn't a dead issue

Ann Clark
A group of parents and teachers has pushed for years to move back the start times for high schools. Based on what Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said Wednesday, the issue may get a public hearing in the near future.

Most high schools start their days at 7:15 a.m., but there's been quite a bit of research that shows beginning school that early can have a negative effect on teenagers. A school bell task force has spent the past year studying whether it would be possible to move those back.

The task force was convened under former Superintendent Heath Morrison. When he suddenly resigned, some members of the task force told me they were concerned about where their work would go under Clark's leadership.

Clark said at a board workshop Wednesday that CMS staff was working to put together a report for the school board on what the school bell task force had recommended -- which would include later times for high schools and a shorter elementary school day.

She didn't say when that report would be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ousted CEO vows to re-open failed Entrepreneur High

Hans Plotseneder
It's only been a few days since Entrepreneur High closed its doors, but its former CEO is already promising to restart the school without the board that fired him in Christmas Eve.

You'll recall that this school's board chairman told the state that it only had $14 in the bank last week. The charter school advisory board then took the first steps toward revoking its charter. With that hanging over the school's head, chairman Robert Hillman shut down operations Friday.

In an email sent to the media in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Hans Peter Plotseneder -- also known as Dr. Plots -- insists that he is the only person who has the right to operate the school and lays out a plan to do so.

Plotseneder was fired Christmas Eve after a series of emergency board meetings in late December. Hillman wouldn't go into detail about what led up to the firing, but other school staff members said Plotseneder didn't do enough to take care of the school's students, leading them to withdraw from the school en masse.

Plotseneder's plan hinges on cutting Entrepreneur High's staff in half and relying on public money slated to arrive in February. He claims that he would receive $124,000 from the state and as much as $90,000 from the county.

Plotseneder then plans to receive $90,000 in grants, secure a bridge loan of $75,000, and sublease part of the building, an old Food Lion off Central Avenue. Ultimately, he wants to bring in a charter management organization to take over.

All that would certainly be difficult given that the remaining handful of students have transferred out of the school and that it faces forced closure in a matter of weeks.

The state Department of Public Instruction wasn't immediately able to say whether Entrepreneur High was still eligible to receive money from the state.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

CMS unveils plan to pay 'highly effective' teachers more

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has outlined a plan to give some "highly effective" teachers more money.

Of course, it leaves plenty of room to debate whether it is a fair and effective way to motivate people in the classroom.

The whole thing is tied in with a state law that requires school districts to come up with ways to give their best teachers a bonus. To qualify under the CMS proposal, teachers would have to meet these criteria:

  • Teach at one of the 14 consistently underperforming schools that are part of the Beacon Initiative developed this school year.
  • Be at least proficient in all leadership and student learning standards (I and IV for those on the inside)
  • Have at least one rating above proficient
  • Meet some attendance benchmark. This wasn't outlined at the meeting.
It's unclear how many teachers would be eligible for a bonus. CMS staff who presented the plan said they hadn't run the numbers. The actual award will depend on how many teachers qualify.

The result is likely to be disappointing to a large percentage of the district's teachers. But the district doesn't have a huge pot of money to work with.

The state estimates having $1 million to distribute. CMS generally makes up 10 percent of the state in everything, so the district plans to give out about $100,000. The actual numbers could vary because the awards are funded by license plate sales.

School boards are supposed to send the plans to a N.C. House and Senate committee by Thursday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Who's going to be the new school board member?

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is looking for a new member, and if history is any indication, there'll be a lot of interest.

Joyce Waddell, who represented District 3, stepped down to assume her role in the N.C. Senate. Her district runs from uptown north and east through the University City area.

Waddell ran unopposed in 2013. But in elections before that, the District 3 seat has been one of the more hotly contested positions on the board.

Nine names appeared on the ballot in 2009, when Waddell won the seat with 32 percent of the vote.
Four people vied for the seat in 2005, when George Dunlap won re-election.

Dunlap, who now is a Mecklenburg County commissioner, ran unopposed a few times before that.

Applications are due Feb. 2. You can apply online here. They'll pick somebody Feb. 5.

I have two people so far that I've confirmed are going to apply.

  • Levester Flowers is a retired Bank of Amerca employee and a familiar face in local politics. He's a regular speaker in the public comment sessions and has been vocal about getting families more involved in their children's education. In 2011, as CMS moved to shut down campuses amid budget cuts, Flowers organized a group called "Save Our Schools." He has run for a seat on the City Council before.

    He told the Observer he is throwing his hat in the ring to help continue the "upward spiral" of test scores, graduation rates and reading proficiency.
  • Pat Martinez is a Charlotte businesswoman who runs a company called "Leadership in the Clouds," which works with other businesses on leadership development. She is an advocate for the Latino community and would be one of the first Hispanic people on the school board (if not the first).

    She said she wants to "work with school board members to restore trust and continue to enhance the integrity of our school system."
Know of anyone else applying for the position? Let me know. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

CMS to more closely track hours of part-time workers

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is now going to make sure its part-time employees are tracking their hours -- a change CMS says is a side effect of the Affordable Care Act.

President Barack Obama's signature health insurance law has been leading to changes to plans across the public and private sector, and school districts are no exception. They, too, would be subject to penalties for not offering health insurance to employees working 30 or more hours per week.

Part-time workers in public schools generally work between 20 and 30 hours each week. Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark wrote in a report to the school board Friday that part-time workers are now required to use the the district's computer system to document their "actual hours worked" to ensure they don't exceed the 30-hour threshold.

The district is now setting the bar for part-time employees at 28 hours per week, effective Jan. 1. Part-time jobs can range from speech pathologist to media center assistants.

The Affordable Care Act also means that a new class of workers will be eligible for coverage. The state defines them as "non-permanent employees who work at least 30 hours per week." This appears to include interim or temporary positions, like a fill-in teacher or principal. These jobs weren't eligible for health insurance before.

Now they'll get access to a "bronze" level high-deductible plan.

CMS says 220 employees were identified who qualify, including 32 retirees. This could cause some issues for people who retired from the district but came back to work in a temporary role. Clark's memo said the district has "informed these employees of the potential negative impact on their retirement benefits, including their health insurance coverage."

It's unclear whether all this will cost CMS any more money. I was unable to get a hold of somebody in the human resources department to ask.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ann Clark launching Raleigh lobbying public efforts

The North Carolina legislature will soon be back in session, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hopes to be a prominent voice in Raleigh this year.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark is scheduled to kick off her public lobbying effort this weekend at an event sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Called "What happens in Raleigh matters in Mecklenburg," the forum will feature speakers who believe the state budget doesn't properly fund education in the Charlotte area (If you're interested in going, the event is at 10 a.m. Saturday at the YWCA, 3420 Park Road).

Also speaking will be John Dornan, founder and former executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina; and Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst at the Budget and Tax Center, part of the N.C. Justice Center.

Clark spoke at a similar event last year. But this year, the appearance comes as she will be assuming one of her most prominent roles yet in Raleigh as she acts in the superintendent's role for CMS. She told the Observer last month that she's already been setting up individual meetings with the Mecklenburg County delegation. That group will be getting another friendly face in January when school board member Joyce Waddell steps down to take a seat in the N.C. Senate. Expect that to happen at the board meeting next week.

Clark has said 2015 will include targeted trips to Raleigh to push for increased teacher pay and for support  in recruiting top young teachers.