Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Write-in votes: Jennifer Roberts for mayor?

Jennifer Roberts for mayor? Sure, say some voters.

The former Mecklenburg commissioners chair and congressional candidate received 18 write-in votes in the recent election for Charlotte mayor, according to  a report on the Nov. 5 election. That's the highest for any write-in candidate. (ICYMI: Democrat Patrick Cannon is the new mayor-elect.)
Jennifer Roberts

Others receiving a nod for mayor were interim Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey, with 5 votes. City Councilman James Mitchell, a Democrat who lost in his party's primary to become mayor, got 7 votes.

Get the full list of write-in votes at

A couple things to note: While the board of election must keep a tally of all people who receive write-in votes, the list above only identifies people whose names were written at least five times on the ballot.

In addition to mayor, the list also includes write-in votes for Charlotte City Council, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and town races on the November ballot.

So are any non-politicians on the list?

Well, Observer Deputy City Editor Doug Miller reports that NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. always does well, according to the elections board. But Dale Jr. is ineligible for office because he's not a city resident. -- April Bethea

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spivey's retirement message

Myers Park High Principal Tom Spivey told families Friday he will retire from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this summer. Here's his message:
Letter from Principal Tom Spivey

MPHS Family,

It is with mixed emotions that I announce my retirement effective July 1, 2013. This has been an extremely difficult decision preceded by much soul-searching. It is extremely hard to leave a school system that has been so much of my life the past 47 years - 34 years as an educator. Selfishly, I would love to remain at MPHS on a year to year basis but ultimately must address what is in the best interest of the school.

A number of circumstances, both personal and job related, have changed over the past few weeks which impacted my decision. Until recently, we had anticipated all new construction to be completed next year and I was more than willing to lead the school during that challenging process. The new two year timetable makes the project much easier to supervise and more beneficial for new leadership to manage. The new principal will also be able to coordinate the development of the new 3 year School Improvement Plan which is to be developed and implemented this fall.

I can't express the joy and satisfaction experienced at MPHS and will always have such fond memories of my time here. While extremely proud of all our accomplishments the past 8 years, I am equally proud of how we approached the challenges.

Our focus on the success of all students led to many new programs, a more child centered campus and a four year graduation rate that recently surpassed 90%. Budget reductions which cut 20% of our teachers, 40% of our administrative team, and 50% of the security force were met as an opportunity for change and school improvement. Despite larger class sizes and more expectations of staff, test scores continued to excel, student safety improved and not one student program was lost. The unexpected decision to move our IB feeder program was a major setback at the time. Losing 400 top students would devastate many schools and academic programs. Instead, parents and staff worked together to revisit our program and we currently have more students in our IB program than before the board change. Students that would not have participated in AP/IB level classes before the change accepted the challenge of more rigorous coursework and are finding success. AP/IB numbers will only increase as we add a variety of new academic options over the next two years.

It would take pages to list all the accomplishments of our students and teachers. Test scores are strong, retention rates have dropped, graduation rates have increased, and student participation in clubs and activities continues to rise. Athletics are consistently rated among the best in North Carolina. Academic teams continue to win state, national, and world competitions and have dominated the NC Scholastic Cup since inception. The Arts excel and our Debate and CTE programs continue to bring accolades to the school. The school is well respected locally and nationally but more importantly, students are well-prepared for life after Myers Park.  

We are now at a good point of transition. The budget is gradually improving with new projections adding teachers and an administrator, IB and AP numbers are growing, construction is proceeding with clear transition plans in place- including a new proposal for a 50 classroom building behind the LA Building, resources (including CIS) for our most at-risk students/neighborhoods are growing and parent/community support for MPHS is strong. An excellent nucleus of teachers and support staff is in place and we have the privilege to work with a wonderful group of students each day.

I don't know what the next step in life holds but know that another door will open. I have not looked beyond Myers Park and can assure you that my focus remains strong as there is a lot to accomplish over the next three months.  I can assure you that everything will be in order when I depart. There is also a lot of work at home that I have neglected the past 25 years that will keep me, a decorator, an architect, and a contractor busy for several months. After that, I am open to wherever led although MPHS will always be home.

Over the next quarter, I will be developing transition plans to address where we have been, our present course as a school and the challenges/opportunities that lie ahead.

Thanks for your continued support.

Thomas L. Spivey
Myers Park High School

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Charter application: Is it cheating?

Updated March 7 with N.C. Board of Education's rejection of Cameron Creek's charter.

As charter schools take on a growing role in North Carolina's public education picture, the dispute over Cameron Creek Charter School's application illustrates some of the challenges of sorting through who gets permission to open the alternative public schools.

Founder Sylvia Cole was among 25 operators who got preliminary approval from the state Board of Education to open a new school in August 2013.  But in late January, another Charlotte charter applicant,  Stacey Rose,  contacted the state Office of Charter Schools to say that large portions of Cole's application appeared to be copied and pasted from an application Rose had filed in 2012.  Joel Medley, director of the state office,  reviewed the applications,  agreed and asked Cole to explain.  Read Rose's complaint and the letter from Medley to Cole here.

Cole responded with a four-page letter denying the application was copied.  Instead, she said, it drew from various public documents, including "a number of applications" that are posted online. Read her response here.

Cole appeared at the Feb. 11 meeting of the Charter School Advisory Council to field questions about the similarities between the two applications. At the conclusion,  that council voted unanimously to withdraw its support for the Cameron Creek charter and recommend that the state Board of Education not approve that charter at its March meeting. Read the draft minutes of that session here (beginning on page 4) and the notice of that decision sent to Cole here.

Cole and Cameron Creek board member Melvin Sharpe filed a lengthy appeal to the state Board of Education on Feb. 16 (read it here).  Among the issues they raise is that advisory board member Cheryl Turner, director of Sugar Creek Charter School in east Charlotte, had a conflict of interest because her school competes for students with Cameron Creek, which will also be located in that area.  Turner said in an interview Tuesday the she does not view Cameron Creek as competition and initially voted to grant the charter.  She changed her mind last week after seeing how close the two applications are and hearing Cole's defense.  At that point,  Turner said,  "I did not see that they are ready to open a school."

On March 7, the state Board of Education voted not to issue a charter to Cameron Creek. Read the background material on that vote here (click "Final Approval for Charter School Applicants" near the bottom of the agenda).

If you want to decide for yourself about the copying,  here's the 140-page Charlotte Learning Academy application filed in 2011 and the 155-page Cameron Creek application filed last year.

Monday, January 14, 2013

More about CMS schedules

Parents who are unhappy with the hours at some Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have been meeting with district officials to talk about alternatives.  Susan Plaza,  one of the parents,  says that after several less formal meetings,  Superintendent Heath Morrison created a task force  (in addition to the 22 he announced to advise on his strategic plan).  Plaza shared these minutes from the first meeting.

Bell Schedule “Task Force” Meeting 1

January 9, 2013, 5:00 pm

Meeting led by CMS staff Denise Cavoly and Earnest Winston. Introductions made – CMS staff Frank Barnes, Guy Chamberlain, Kevin Devore, Millard House, Sheila Shirley, Valerie Truesdale; CMS Teachers Theresa Connor and Gail Mercurio; Parents Jay Brownlow, Anne Cullip, Dr. Randall Forsythe, Dr. Kym Furney, Christine Mast, Susan Plaza. CMS BOE Chair Mary McCray was able to attend a brief portion of the meeting.

Meeting began at 5:13pm.

Mr. Winston began by stating "they did not bring any answers to this meeting... it was not the purpose of this meeting." Mr. Winston continued by stating that "CMS was starting the budget process, and they didn't know how much money they would have and where it would be coming from."

Report On Past Action Items:

1. Reduction in Calendar Days - Dr. Cavoly and Ms. Shirley stated that CMS will not go to 185 days since the state changed law recently – 180 days OR 1025 hours. CMS currently surpasses the hourly requirement. Transportation costs for 5 additional days estimated at $1.2M-$1.5M, around $250,000 per day. Kevin Devore confirmed buses travel about 105,000 miles daily. The monetary amount is only for transportation, does not include any other operational costs. Susan Plaza clarified that the original suggestion was to reduce days from 180, not 185 (go to 177 or 178 days to save money on transportation and other costs.) Dr. Cavoly and Ms. Shirley presented information on transportation money related to having to EXTEND the 2013-2014 calendar by 5 days to 185 days ($1.2 million). But that was never our question from the meeting on November 19, 2012. Our question asked CMS to consider REDUCING the number of days from 180 down to 178 or 177, and if they did so, how much transportation money would that change save? Dr. Cavoly suggested that CMS may use longer days to stay at 180. Ms. Plaza observed that the CMS website lists instructional hours for Middle and High Schools at 6 hours per day (1080 hours) and Elementary Schools at 6.5 hours per day (1170 hours), negating the need for longer days.

2. Clean Natural Gas Buses (CNG) – Mr. Chamberlain reported that CMS had used some in the past and they were problematic from a maintenance standpoint. CMS is currently writing a pilot with Piedmont Natural Gas to pursue this idea. He suggested that refueling would be a problem as CMS buses refuel during the day. They are looking at using the “white fleet,” said CMS would have access to PNG refueling stations.

Randy Forsythe said the cost of using PNG stations would more than double the cost; CMS should make an investment in their own refueling stations. This would avoid NC taxes and bring costs down substantially. Dr. Forsythe also asked how many staging sites CMS had, Kevin Devore confirmed 5 major (85% of fleet) and 12 others throughout the county. Dr. Forsythe suggested using the 5 major sites as refueling areas.

Mr. Millard House, CMS COO, observed that maintenance was an issue in his former district. Dr. Forsythe said to wait on Thomas Built buses, CNG from the ground up, not retrofits. This would reduce problems. It was agreed that this was a long term project, 3-4 years out.

3. Parent Contributions for Transportation. Mr. Winston began by stating that as they began to discuss this option, "logistically, there were more questions than answers, in asking to charge for transportation." Mr. Winston and Dr. Cavoly said they ran into many questions as they researched this topic. What if families cannot pay? Who collects the money? What if child is at stop but not paid? Ms. Plaza reminded the group that we had already answered these questions in our initial proposal. The fee would follow the FRL pay scale. Kym Furney discussed the fact that this would be about $88 per rider; our group based this amount on 50% of riders paying. She also suggested that CMS get feedback from affected parties. Regarding the question of a child at a bus stop, the proposal stated that fees would be paid in advance and that a child would not receive a bus stop if fees were not paid. Jay Brownlow observed that CMS collects money for many fees (sports, AP tests, etc.) throughout the year, why would this be any different?
Ms. Plaza mentioned the program already in place for collecting fees from PreK students for riding the bus. Mr. Winston asked if this is sustainable. Ms. Plaza mentioned that area private schools have had this policy for years with success. Ms. Anne Cullip observed that this could be a short term solution (3-4 years) until the CNG buses were available. All agreed that solving the bell schedule problem could use a combination of solutions. Dr. Cavoly stated that CMS would continue to review this proposal.

4. Transportation. Kevin Devore gave the group a handout with various scenarios of bell tiers and elementary school day lengths. In Mr. Devore's presentation, he stated that he was using a 6.5 hour elementary day, because "our examples" from the last meeting had shown that to be an average length of day. He suggested creating a small group to work on these ideas. Dr. Forsythe requested follow up on his prior suggesting of utilizing bus capacity (currently only at 70%) by stretching ride time from 30 to 40 minutes in TIMS (routing software). This would increase average ride time for home schools from 13 to 18 minutes. He suggested stretching tier times as well. Kevin reported that he ran that scenario, 2 tiers with 50% Elementary and 50% High and Middle. Worked well but lost some benefits with High/Middle. Christine Mast asked if northern part of county was problematic. Kevin said yes, fewer elementaries feed North Meck, also partial and full magnets create problems.

Dr. Forsythe remembered that Carol Stamper from Transportation said the office couldn’t get engaged until the elementary day was set (in 2010). He suggested that the day length must be determined first. CMS could take this opportunity to create parity of instructional time for teachers (Middle and High instructional day is 6 hours, Elementary is 6.5 – elementary teachers currently have 90 more hours than MS and HS teachers.)

Dr. Cavoly said there were too many variables and budget decisions to make this decision. Ms. Mast wanted to know who will make this decision and when. Mary McCray (BOE Board Chair) recalled that it came to a board vote in 2010. She assumes that Dr. Morrison would make a recommendation and the board would vote.

Ms. Mast asked for a budget timetable, Ms. Shirley confirmed the first work session for budget was late February. Dr. Forsythe recalled that the earlier decision to extend the day came in January 2010, suggested we may already be behind schedule.

5. Extended Day Outcomes. Frank Barnes ran statistical data on the impact of dismissal times at elementary schools. Created 5 categories based on release times and examined academic achievement (Proficiency Rates on math and reading EOGs for 2010/11 and 2011/12 as well as Average Growth Rates for 10/11 and 11/12.) Determined that there were varied outcomes, there were correlations but not statistically significant. This analysis only factored in the RELEASE times of the elementary schools. He did not do an analysis on the effects of adding in the additional 45 minutes to the elementary. And even in the analysis he did, he only used EOG scores, which includes 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. None of his analysis included test scores from K, 1st or 2nd graders, who are 50% of the elementary schools' population. Dr. Forsythe explained to the group that not finding a correlation does not mean there are none. Dr. Furney reminded the group that this is not a one size fits all solution. The longer day may be beneficial for some students but negative for others. Mr. Barnes agreed that there are impacts on students. Mr. Brownlow asked if test score data had been reviewed regarding the additional 45 minutes, Mr. Barnes said no. Mr. Brownlow asked why CMS would continue if there was no educational improvement? Dr. Cavoly said Kit Rea (area superintendent) has done a survey asking principals how they are using the additional time. Mr. Brownlow suggested that this would not give accurate data as principals would not risk their jobs by being truthful about how the time is used. Ms. Mast asked again why is CMS adding the extra time? Dr. Forsythe asked if we can determine whether there have been improvements academically. Mr. Barnes said CMS would need several more years to accumulate enough data but other districts are seeing success with longer days. Dr.
Forsythe observed that there has been a 5% increase in early dismissal resulting from the late dismissal/longer day. He also mentioned that other districts seeing success from longer days also give their teachers planning time. CMS does not so we are comparing two different models of longer day.

6. Next Steps. Dr. Furney and others asked for confirmation that we are working on solutions for the 2013/14 school year. It was agreed that we must know elementary day length to continue working on solutions; there are two problems – the late bell and the longer day. Mr. Winston said we will turn group into a task force, there will be short term and long term solutions. CMS cannot commit to a time line, the budget dictates  priorities. Dr. Furney asked again, can we do this for the fall if the budget permits? Mr. Winston again could not give a yes or no reply. Ms. Cavoly suggested that they were unclear about what we were requesting. Ms. Plaza reminded the group that we have been asking for a shorter elementary day and a 3:45 dismissal time. Dr. Forsythe reviewed that at our last meeting with Dr. Morrison, Dr. Morrison indicated that the task force must be formed quickly in order to find solutions for this budget year in order to make changes for the 2013/14 school year. He also said he would compromise on the elementary day length. Dr. Forsythe said our group was told that the task force would determine the best way to make this happen, not determine IF it would happen.

Kit Rea (appointed task force leader) was not present at the meeting. She was supposed to have polled all elementary principals about how they utilized their extra 45 minutes. We were told by Dr. Cavoly that she still had schools that hadn't responded. Our last meeting was November 19th, 2012. How long does it take to gather all the answers? Why wasn't Kit at the meeting? When will we receive the results?

Dr. Forsythe explained that the bell schedules cannot be determined until the length of the elementary day is decided. We asked repeatedly to get an answer as to WHO is going to make these decisions and WHEN are these decisions going to be made. We never received an answer.

Mr. Winston tried to start closing the meeting by stating, "We need to talk about moving into a task force. We should get a smaller group together and talk about forming a task force. Then we could reconvene and make the task force." Ms. Mast and others confirmed that according to Dr. Morrison’s earlier statements, this meeting was the task force. In the November 19th meeting, Dr. Morrison stated that he wanted to form a task force, but start it earlier than the (soon to be announced 22 other committees) others, since we had already begun to meet and had been discussing the issues with him since the summer of 2012.

Dr. Cavoly had some question as to the goals of the group and said it was unclear what we were asking for. Several parents reminded her that the purpose of this group (spelled out in a July letter to Dr. Morrison and confirmed in two meetings with both him and Dr. Cavoly) was to reduce the elementary day and have the latest CMS dismissal at 3:45. As Kevin Devore noted earlier in his discussion, "Feedback from the previous meeting - Elementary day is too long, 3:45 is the last bell tier, and High School students at a later time." Ms. Mast questioned why Dr. Cavoly and Mr. Winston were unclear about this.

Mr. Winston suggested having a small group meet to discuss the task force. He will contact Ms. Plaza to set up details.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ellis-Stewart recaps eventful year

In case anyone has forgotten how much went on in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this year, board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart summed it up in a statement released just before she turned over the post to Mary McCray, who has been vice chair for the past year. Members unanimously chose McCray their new chairman and Tim Morgan as vice chair.

Here's Ellis-Stewart's statement:

For the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, this has been a productive year with many significant accomplishments.  Throughout 2012, this board has had numerous successes as it has worked to improve the lives of children throughout Mecklenburg County. Among the most notable is the completion of the Superintendent search, the subsequent hiring of Dr. Heath Morrison as CMS Superintendent, and the adoption of the 2012-2013 budget which provided a three percent compensation adjustment to all CMS employees.  With every decision, this board balanced the many needs of the district with fiscal restraint and a focus on quality.

In 2012, the CMS board has also been able to:
•           Establish the Inter-Governmental Relationships Committee, a new board committee designed to focus our legislative efforts and to improve our working relationships with other local and state governing bodies,
•           Draft and adopt the 2012 and 2013 CMS Legislative Agenda, a two-part document which outlined our priorities at the State and local level.
•           Convene multiple board retreats and work sessions to focus on improving the working relationships among board members, on-boarding our new superintendent and to discuss the ways in which we approach the governance of the district,
•           Approve a Memorandum of Understanding and contract outlining our partnership and support of Project LIFT,
•           Approve $59 million in construction contracts in support of new and replacement schools at Bain Elementary, Pineville Elementary, McClintock Middle and the Torrence Creek Elementary Relief School, and
•           Act in the best interest of children and families by reversing the decision to merge First Ward Creative Arts and University Park Creative Arts.

During my term as board chair, I have worked hard to stay abreast of national trends and to further my knowledge of how school boards can be most effective. I have formed relationships with school board members and policy leaders from across the country. I have used what I have gained from these interactions to inform my own perspective on issues we face here in Mecklenburg County such as teacher compensation and performance models, curriculum innovations, community-based schools partnerships and creating students who are career and college ready. As my colleagues can attest to, I am passionate about the need to get more students to and successfully through Algebra I by 8th grade; creating global citizens by bringing foreign language instruction back into our elementary schools and creating more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning opportunities for our students.

As a newly elected public servant, it has been an honor to serve in this role for the past year. This role while rewarding is not without its challenges. The work is significant and can be a time consuming undertaking. As previous chairs can attest; you spend many hours on the telephone and in meetings sharing information and working towards consensus, attending numerous public events and signing mountains of district contracts. There is a tremendous learning curve, but through it all, I have worked to handle myself with grace and dignity.

In 2013, this board will have new leadership as I intend to nominate and vote for Mary McCray to serve as chair for the coming year. After serving as chair, I have a great appreciation for the work that it requires. This work requires the courage to collaborate, to build consensus and to do whatever it takes to build the best school district in the country. There are nine members on this board and often at least nine different perspectives on how to define a problem and work towards a solution. As an outgoing chair, I understand the experiences and challenges of leading this body and I wish the new leadership well in their endeavors and will work with them as we continue to build a school district the community wants and deserves.

When I ran for school board, I did so as a passionate advocate for education who desired to provide the community with a voice on issues impacting our schools.  I look forward to continuing to use my skills and abilities to work on behalf of students, families and teachers throughout this district. I also desire to become more involved with education issues and policy at the national level.  I am currently seeking a seat on a national steering committee whose work is focused on issues facing urban boards of education.  Additionally, I want to play a more active role in the work of our board committees, particularly the Inter-Government Relationships and Policy committees. I am as committed as ever to the success of this district, improving outcomes for our students and serving this community. I look forward to continuing to advance the work of this district, both locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to thank my fellow board members, Dr. Morrison and his staff and the community for your support during my tenure.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wide range of poverty in CMS schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released its annual report on student poverty levels Friday. See the levels for each school here  (the document lists schools alphabetically,  followed by the same list sorted by poverty levels).

There has been no significant change in the overall level,  with just over 54 percent of all students qualifying for lunch subsidies for the second year in a row.  Individual school levels range from 4 percent at Providence Spring Elementary to almost 97 percent at Hidden Valley Elementary.

Public schools across the country use eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches as a gauge of family poverty.  See this year's N.C. income cutoffs here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

CMS payment ends legal battle over 'touching'

The settlement released Monday between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and former teacher Jeffrey Leardini ends a legal battle over how the district handled a 2006 complaint that he had improperly touched students at Community House Middle School.

A jury awarded Leardini $1.1 million in February,  concluding that CMS misled him into a hasty resignation. The settlement reduces the amount CMS pays but also ends appeals,  which could have brought a new trial.

Read the settlement here.