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