CMS panel wres­tles with poverty, race, school bound­aries

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY ANN DOSS HELMS

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A panel of Char­lot­teMeck­len­burg school board mem­bers agreed Thurs­day that re­duc­ing con­cen­tra­tions of poverty through stu­dent as­sign­ment is one way to cre­ate eq­ui­table op­por­tu­nity.

But as they delved into de­tails sharp philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences emerged. And by the end of their 90minute meet­ing it wasn’t clear whether they’d stick with the plan to mon­i­tor school poverty trends.

At is­sue is the quest to craft an eq­uity pol­icy to re­dress his­toric and on­go­ing ed­u­ca­tional dis­ad­van­tages based on race, class and eth­nic­ity. The board and its pol­icy com­mit­tee have been work­ing on this task for more than a year.

At Thurs­day’s pol­icy com­mit­tee meet­ing, board mem­bers Ruby Jones and Sean Strain balked at fo­cus­ing too tightly on haves and have-nots. “Let’s move for­ward with do­ing what’s good for all stu­dents,” Jones said.

But mem­ber Carol Sawyer ar­gued that the whole point of an eq­uity pol­icy, as op­posed to a broad plan for ed­u­ca­tion, is to ac­knowl­edge and ad­dress those gaps. “We wouldn’t need an eq­uity pol­icy at all if we weren’t deal­ing with sys­temic racism and bias,” she said.

The cur­rent draft of the pol­icy calls for the su­per­in­ten­dent to mon­i­tor and re­port on six “eq­uity levers.” They are con­cen­tra­tions of poverty, ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, fa­cil­i­ties, school staff, fam­ily en­gage­ment and so­cial and emo­tional sup­port for stu­dents. Most of Thurs­day’s dis­cus­sion fo­cused on as­sign­ment, with the com­mit­tee vot­ing 4- 0 that it should be one of the levers.

NEW POVERTY LIST

As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Akeshia Craven-How­ell handed out a new tally of so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus based on 2018-19 en­roll­ment. That’s a mea­sure CMS cre­ated in 2016 to mea­sure and bal­ance the level of ad­van­tage or dis­ad­van­tage stu­dents bring to their schools. The district looked at fam­ily in­come, par­ents’ ed­u­ca­tion level, home own­er­ship and other mea­sures in all cen­sus blocks to la­bel stu­dents high, medium or low so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus. Those rat­ings are used to give pri­or­ity in mag­net pro­grams to stu­dents who bal­ance the de­mo­graph­ics.

The list shows neigh­bor­hood schools con­tinue to vary widely. At Prov­i­dence Spring Ele­men­tary in Char­lotte’s south­ern tip, all but two of 978 stu­dents are clas­si­fied as high so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus, while at Devon­shire Ele­men­tary in north­east Char­lotte 613 of 614 are clas­si­fied as low so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus.

Twenty of the district’s 175 schools, all of them neigh­bor­hood schools in a band that runs from south­west to north­east Char­lotte, have more than 90 per­cent low so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus — that is, the stu­dents with the most fam­ily and neigh­bor­hood dis­ad­van­tages.

Eight neigh­bor­hood schools have more than 90 per­cent from the most ad­van­taged ar­eas, in­clud­ing one in Hun­tersville and seven in south Char­lotte.

The Ob­server has re­quested the so­cioe­co­nomic break­downs in a for­mat that can be shared pub­licly.

Jones, mem­ber Thelma By­ers-Bai­ley and board Chair Mary McCray said city and county hous­ing poli­cies drive much of the iso­la­tion in schools, which lim­its the district’s abil­ity to cre­ate greater di­ver­sity.

“We know we have seg­re­gated hous­ing pat­terns,” By­ers-Bai­ley said. “That is not go­ing to go away to­mor­row.”

Sawyer ar­gued that CMS should fo­cus on what it can con­trol, such as school bound­aries. She said ex­treme con­cen­tra­tions of dis­ad­van­tage ham­per ef­forts to re­cruit top teach­ers and pro­mote high achieve­ment. “We can de­cide it is more im­por­tant to have a so­cioe­co­nom­i­cally di­verse school than to have, how­ever we de­fine it, a neigh­bor­hood to­gether,” she said.

NAR­ROW THE FO­CUS?

The panel also dis­cussed the best way to mea­sure so­cial and emo­tional sup­port, with the other “levers” left for dis­cus­sion at fu­ture meet­ings.

The cur­rent draft calls for mon­i­tor­ing sus­pen­sion and at­ten­dance for signs of dis­par­i­ties. But Co­trane Penn, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of stu­dent well­ness and aca­demic sup­port, said those are “dead data points” that only track the stu­dents who are in se­vere dis­tress.

Penn said CMS plans to pi­lot a new method of gaug­ing all stu­dents so­cial and emo­tional skills this spring.

McCray agreed such sup­port is vi­tal to pro­vid­ing a good ed­u­ca­tion. But she sug­gested the com­mit­tee risks adding too many mea­sures to the eq­uity plan. She sug­gested align­ing the eq­uity pol­icy with the three fo­cuses of the su­per­in­ten­dent’s strate­gic plan: Time in school, top teach­ers and ac­cess to rig­or­ous classes.

Months of work lies ahead.

But Jones, who chairs the pol­icy com­mit­tee, said she’s al­ready get­ting lots of calls and emails about the eq­uity plan.

“The pub­lic is very, very in­ter­ested in this,” Jones said.

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