CHARLOTTE – Leaders from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools visited the Ballantyne Breakfast Club on Aug. 11 to answer questions and address concerns related to diversity, safety and school buses.
Here’s a roundup of the biggest topics discussed by Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, as well as school board members Mary McCray and Sean Strain.
One parent asked what CMS is doing to make schools more diverse and not segregated.
“The reality is schools are more segregated today than they have been at almost anytime previously,” Wilcox said. “The board has worked hard in its student assignment plan to encourage people to voluntarily desegregate the community by participating in great programs that were launched across the system.”
Wilcox said an upcoming K-8 STEAM magnet school at Rea Farms is going to attract children from a variety of perspectives and cultural backgrounds.
“I believe that most residents today want their kids to go to a school in an environment that looks like the 21-century workplace, which means people of different races, religions and value structures are going to school together.”
Wilcox pointed to CMS’s award-winning efforts to break down systemic and institutional racism by focusing on achievement gaps.
Strain maintained that schools in south Charlotte are among the district’s most diverse, noting the cultural and socio-economic diversity at Endhaven and Hawk Ridge. He also pointed to survey results from a couple of years ago that shows parents favored neighborhood schools complemented by a strong magnet program.
“There is a lot of talk among the board and in our working sessions about equity,” Strain said. “For me, that’s all about we meet the needs of every child at every school.”
McCray said the school board is updating its policies, as well as its mission, vision and core beliefs. The board will also define what equity means for the district and set the direction for staff to follow.
McCray said Charlotte’s segregation is a result of housing patterns and where people can afford to live.
“What we have to do is work on behalf of the city council to make sure that we can get affordable housing in all segments of our city, not just in one part of our city,” she said. “If we can do tha,t it will further diversity our schools.”
One mother of two children asked about how CMS is cracking down on families with enrolled children who live outside of the district. The issue has been a topic of internal discussions within the district, Wilcox said.
When Wilcox sees vehicles with South Carolina plates, he doesn’t presume the family lied about their residency.
“Our presumption is we’re going to educate the kids we are privileged to have in front of us,” he said.
Strain said he respects Wilcox’s position, but he believes the district needs to have a process in place to ensure the registration of CMS students is valid. He said students in overcrowded schools have fewer opportunities to play on sports teams, for example.
CMS is in the property acquisition phase for several schools identified in the school bond.
The district is working with a land broker to narrow the number of properties where it can build a high school in the area to open in 2023. That will provide some relief for Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg, McCray said.
McCray said the K-8 STEAM school that would provide relief for Ballantyne, Community House, Elon Park, Hawk Ridge and Polo Ridge, as well as Jay M. Robinson Middle. The 54-classroom school is expected to open in 2020 within the Rea Farms development.
Wilcox talked about $4.5 million the district received from county commissioners for safety upgrades.
CMS staff has spent the summer making physical upgrades to buildings, looking at camera systems, reviewing emergency procedures and adding fencing on campuses where it makes sense.
“I think your children are going to come back to schools that are beginning to be safer every day – all 177 of them – no, not yet, but we’re going to get there over the course of the next couple of years,” Wilcox said. “In the meantime, we’re doing all kinds of things we can do outside of physical improvements to make sure your children are safe.”
Schools are also working with law enforcement agencies on providing “active survivor training” in the event of a shooter coming onto a campus.
“The last thing we need in one of those events is 1,000 parents to show up looking for their child,” Wilcox said. “Not only does that jam up our cell phone capabilities, but it also jams up the area of the community so the emergency responders can get there.”
Wilcox encourages parents concerned about the safety of their children to talk with their principals about the training.
One parent asked what CMS is doing to ensure there’s enough drivers for school buses, as well as how the district will keep transportation efficient.
McCray said CMS has trouble keeping bus drivers employed, because once they are trained, they are lured by higher-paying jobs with the Charlotte Area Transit System. The school board has tasked Wilcox with trying to ensure bus driver pay is competitive with starting CATS salaries.
Wilcox explained how parents typically choose to drive their children during the first week of school, which may cause drivers to overlook those same kids when they first decide to use the bus.
While not all routes were staffed as of the Ballantyne Breakfast club meeting, Wilcox said they spent all last spring and this summer actively recruiting drivers. CMS plans to redeploy bus driver trainers to serve as substitute.
“I don’t want to say it’s rocket science, but it’s as close to it as i know,” Wilcox said. “Transportation of all things.”