CHARLOTTE – Earnest Winston, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, addressed the Ballantyne Breakfast Club on Oct. 5 about graduation rates, plans for teachers and his vision for schools in the south Charlotte area.
Resolving the overcrowding in south Charlotte schools is a top priority for the school board, according to Winston.
“We recognize that growth and overcrowding are issues here,” Winston said. “Through our future bond referendums and our existing 2017 bond, we are going to try and address those overcrowding issues. We are well aware that they exist.”
In addition to the 2017 bond, Winston believes future referendums will be made to help resolve the issue.
Winston is also focused on helping Community House Middle School, which has 1,950 students.
Overcrowded high schools are also a concern for parents. However, the process of establishing a new high school in south Charlotte is going to take time, Winston said.
“We are studying a number of different options to provide that relief that was promised in the 2017 bond,” Winston said. “And as part of that process, we are engaging our board members, and ultimately, they will make a decision on what that outcome will look like. But we’re still committed to providing relief in the south part of town. But it is a process that we’re going through, and it’s important that we engage board members as part of that process.”
Mary McCray, who chairs the school board, said there are additional challenges when it comes to the new high school.
“When you’re given a challenge, you rise to the challenge, so the board did,” McCray said. “Legally, we can only build on land that we own. So it sort of puts us behind the 8-ball whenever staff brings us recommendations and we get out in front and talk about those recommendations as if the board has approved them. The board has not approved anything. Staff is churning and churning to bring those recommendations to us when it comes to various things we can do for the new south high school.”
South Charlotte resident and former CMS teacher Rhonda Rivers said the growth is a testament to education in the area.
“It’s a compliment to the quality of education that children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and in South Meck that they’ve been receiving here in south Charlotte and the Ballantyne area,” Rivers said. “My main concern is that we can keep up with the growth, making sure that children have adequate facilities and space to learn and making sure that we can continue to recruit and retain quality teachers.”
Rivers said it meant a lot to her and other residents that Winston made an effort to address their growth concerns.
“It says that he’s willing to make sure he partners with parents and understands the vision so that we can collaborate and work together and move in the same direction,” she said. “He shows us that he is involved, interested and informed of the needs in every area of town and that’s important to the parents. I think he was well-received today and that’s important. We have to be on the same team and understand that at the end of the day, it’s all about what the children need.”
Winston said it is important for him to hear parents’ concerns. Before the meeting, he took the time to meet with other concerned parents in the area.
“We may not always walk away in agreement on how to come to resolution, but I think it is very important that people feel that they’ve been heard, that people care about the issues that they’ve been raising and hopefully together, we can come to a resolution that meets everyone’s needs,” Winston said.
Winston also said in addition to working with parents, he feels lucky to work with an engaged board, teachers and support staff, from janitors to cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
“I am still enjoying the job and the people that I have the privilege of working with,” Winston said. “Some people tell me I’ve got a tough job, but I know that working together collectively, it’s not an impossible job.”