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CMS - The Road Ahead

by Kit Cramer

November 4,2005

Public education is central to our democracy. It is the foundation upon which we build quality of life and our economic health. It requires the active participation of citizens. In Charlotte, we need more than participation. We need support.

It has been tough serving on the school board in the last year. We’ve faced a divided community over pupil assignment issues, competing interests over facility needs and concerns about discipline in our schools, all with a school board that is sometimes as visibly divided as is the community.

Despite differences in how things should be done, the School Board has sought to address these concerns in a variety of ways: 1) with a comprehensive review of student assignment, 2) by proposing $427 million in bonds to meet both growth and renovation needs, and 3) by asking Interim Superintendent Frances Haithcock to develop a comprehensive program to improve discipline, student behavior and safety.

We’ve also asked for greater transparency in the communications from the district and have called on state leaders for help with obtaining more qualified teachers and principals in an effort to boost student performance.

Amidst all the ancillary issues, we’ve been focused on student achievement. Our End of Grade test scores showed the percent of students at or above grade level in elementary reading is 86%, up one point and at 90% for math, down two points. Seven elementary schools had more than 10-point gains this year.

In middle schools, the percentage of students at or above grade level in reading is 82%, up two points. For math, the score remained steady at 84%.

The composite score for End of Course tests in the high schools is up 3 points for a total of 66%. While a lot of progress still needs to be made in our high schools, we’re encouraged that the trend line is positive. A new initiative focused on high school performance has many exciting components.

While we’re all anxious for even more improvement in all of our schools, the big picture view is that the achievement gap has narrowed by over 36 points since 1996! There aren’t many districts of our size and composition that can make the same statement and we salute the educators who have bucked the trend and made it happen.

As for the challenges from the last year, we’ve produced a pupil assignment plan that is simpler and easier to navigate, requiring fewer buses and giving all areas of the county access to popular magnet programs. Planning continues on the development of a military school and other unique programs—especially at the high school level-- that we hope will capture the imagination of students and parents and improve our results.

At the first meeting in August, the Board heard a presentation on the comprehensive approach CMS will take to improving student behavior, discipline and safety. Dr. Haithcock worked with her staff to develop a project charter that assigns milestone dates, measures and responsibility for improving the learning environment of our schools. She has also invited representatives from all the public safety entities to join in on the implementation of the plan.

On November 8th voters will determine the outcome of the $427 million dollar bond referendum. The dollars devoted to growth and renovations within the request are proportional to the needs that have been outlined in the long- range facilities master plan.

As soon as the new district members of the school board are installed, we’ll launch into a formal Superintendent Search. Our plan is to take our thoughts on what we’re seeking to the public in a series of meetings in December.

We’ll also be bringing the community a statement of our core beliefs and commitments to our schools, along with our strategic approach to improving student achievement. We’ll be asking everyone to sign on in a show of support for public education.

The work of the school system can be contentious, demanding and frustrating. But it is also incredibly important…important to our children’s future, important to the health and vitality of our economy and quality of life, important for Charlotte’s continued success. Our community has a long, rich tradition of supporting public schools. We need to redouble that effort.

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