Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Storm over Myers Park attendance

An idea that sounded good to the school board in August - consider moving neighborhoods from the crowded Myers Park High to the shrinking East Meck in 2010-11 - is looking more like a political stink bomb three weeks later.

Board members and candidates - especially in District 5, which includes the Myers Park High and a bit of the East Meck zone - have been beseiged by parents and residents upset that a last-minute plan could rock not just school assignments but community ties.

On Monday, District 5 candidate Susan Walker released her statement. Opponent Eric Davis followed Tuesday (board chair Molly Griffin, who represents that district, isn't running).

And today at-large board member Trent Merchant, whose on-air comments about rezoning the Cotswold area inflamed the controversy, put out his own statement saying the board's unanimous vote was the wrong one.

Here are the statements:

> Slowdown the Myers Park / East Mecklenburg
> Pupil Reassignment Plan, says Walker
> Pupil assignment has emerged as the hot issue in the District 5 race for School Board. Citizens are asking for candidates to weigh in so they can get a sense of how their elected officials will represent them over the next four years. The issue of re-assigning students from Myers Park High School to East Mecklenburg High School is a by-product of the controversial assignment plan for the new Mint Hill High School, which is located 12 miles away. In a 6-3 vote the School Board chose a CMS plan to re-draw the attendance zones for four high schools. This plan sends Mint Hill students who live in District 6 to Independence High School, which is in District 4. It sends students who live in District 3 to the new Mint Hill High School in District 6.
Families who voted for the 2007 bonds package in District 6 rightfully feel cheated and misled by the Board of Education, CMS and the Task Force committee members who sold them the package. The plan defies logic and illustrates that there is no clear plan for CMS pupil assignment. A consequence of the new assignment plan for the East side is that decreased enrollment at East Mecklenburg has some citizens and Board members looking to move students from Myers Park, which has now been deemed "overcrowded." The Cotswold area has been cited as the area that fits the bill from which to pull students. I believe that this is the intended consequence of this Board, and not merely a "ripple effect" of the East side realignment. Families from the Cotswold area are proactively organizing in large numbers in opposition to this reassignment, and I support their cause.
> For the record, I am opposed to any further changes, especially those which affect District 5 which I hope to serve, until CMS conducts a comprehensive review of its pupil assignment plans and polices. We must have clear guidelines that are used consistently, and CMS must have complete transparency regarding those guidelines. According to the plan adopted in 2002, the guiding principles for pupil assignment are to provide STABILITY and PREDICTABILITY for our families. That plan speaks of strong feeder patterns which our families have come to
> depend on when planning their children’s future. In both my race for County Commission At Large last year and my race for the Board of Education in District 5 this year, I have found few citizens who believe that these principles are being applied.
> Families have lost TRUST in the School Board status quo. Too often, it seems both staff and School Board forget that they are affecting the lives of real people when they are playing with these numbers. A rush to judgment on the Myers Park/East Mecklenburg assignment plan
> is short sighted in light of the economy and our plans for building and growth over the next 10 years. With new census data due for release in 2010 it makes sense to include that data for more informed, data driven assignments. The effects on East Mecklenburg will not be felt for several years. Let’s slow down, get public input and not let a lame duck School Board make hasty decisions that will affect the future of our children and our schools for years to come.
> Susan Walker

Statement from Eric Davis, candidate for Board of Education, District 5
Re: Proposed Redrawing of District 5 Boundaries – East Meck/MPHS
First, Molly Griffith currently holds the BOE seat for District 5, so I encourage all to share thoughts and opinions with her. I have confidence she will listen and thoughtfully consider your input.

Second, as a Charlotte native, I have lived through four decades of rezoning. Both as a student and a parent, I have been adversely impacted by CMS boundary issues. Anyone who has experienced redrawing boundaries knows that it can drive a wedge between neighbors and neighborhoods, creating emotional environments where we are working against each other.
This must stop. When a neighborhood loses, no one wins. When a parent group feels misled and penalized, our entire community suffers.

My commitment to the families in District 5 and across Charlotte is to create collaborative solutions, borne out of an effective and measurable process that works. That’s what we’re missing. We can all redraw maps, divide neighborhoods and shout about whose “turn” it is to take a “hit” for the system. Instead, we must demand constructive and balanced conversations about how to create successful schools to which ALL OF US would be willing to send our kids. As a result, rezoning should be used sparingly and with great care.

Here is my perspective. This is not primarily an East Meck/Myers Park boundary issue. This is about doing what it takes to create successful schools across the district and the system. For example, McClintock Middle School and Rama Road Elementary have not earned the trust and confidence of parents in East Meck neighborhoods. This creates a systemic migration of elementary and middle school students out of the East Meck zone. While some return for high school, East Meck families deserve consistently performing elementary and middle schools. To achieve this, CMS must better support schools like McClintock and make them as attractive and competitive as their peer schools. Cotswold Elementary parents have shown how to rise to the challenge by investing in and supporting their school. Likewise, a successful McClintock will enhance East Meck as vibrant and successful academic community.

One final point. Since I started talking to parents in January, and I have attended over 300 meetings and talked to over 1000 parents, I consistently hear the same themes -- that people want for their children stability and a good school for them to attend. That means that CMS can’t provide one at the expense of the other. We do not win with one or two good schools in District 5. We win only when MPHS, East Meck, South Meck, West Meck and North Meck are schools to which every parent would want to send their children. That is my commitment.


In case you have not seen it already, I have included below an email that I sent to several people last week in response to a request for information. I hope it helps to shed some light on the issue.

As an update - At this point I think that it is VERY unlikely that there will be any sort of recommendation for change regarding EM / MP - for three primary reasons.

1. I think the numbers will show that East Meck (and South Meck on the other side of the MP boundary) will be at a good size for 2010 and MP will be at a manageable size, given its facilities, parental support, etc.
2. It was a board generated "look-see" and has generated little enthusiasm among the planning staff.
3. By the time we get accurate data, have community meetings, get a recommendation, and allow for public comment, I don't think we could vote before the second November meeting. We could have a majority lame duck board at that point - not the best way to generate public confidence - and I have tried to make it clear that I would not support a change under those circumstances.
Even though I think the move to look at the boundary was made in earnest, I wish we had not done it - the timing is not right, staff was not ready for it, and most of the board did not even learn about it until the day of the Aug 11 meeting.
Our best move at this point would be to seat a new board in December and devise a more clear and concise set of guiding principles for boundaries / assignment. I believe that most people - no matter what their situation, where they live, etc - want the schools to be good and they want as much stability as possible when it comes to student assignment. I don't think we accomplish either of those goals by moving neighborhoods and schools around like chess pieces.Thanks for speaking up.

Take care, Trent MerchantBoard of Education, At Large

- Ann Doss Helms


Anonymous said...

Yes, let's leave the find content folks of Myers Park alone. Let's get to naming the new Mint Hill HS. Since rules prohibit naming it in honor after the 6 BOE members and Dr. Gorman that favored the boundaries, let's call it S.E. Meck High School; not for the Southeastern folks, but as in SOCIAL ENGINEERED Mecklenburg High School. Moving students from Independence to a new school and filling that one with students from the Mint Hill area will be their legacy.

Anonymous said...

What about Eastover Elementary? Does this mean that the School Board will not address overcrowding at the Elementary level either? Eastover Elementary is in its fourth year of overcrowding. This year we have approximately 650 students in a school meant to house approximately 450 students. We have seen as many as 35 students in one classroom. The auditorium has been converted to classroom space, shared by a kindergarten class and a first grade class. Lunch has been reduced to 20 minutes per class. Make no mistake: THIS IS AFFECTING CHILDREN. I hope that the School Board and CMS do not again hide behind a November election as an excuse for their collective inability to make a decision. The problem has existed for four years - it's time for a solution.

Mary said...

Yes, Anonymous 9:54, four years is too long.

If the Myers Park people don't mind and East Meck doesn't cut any classes or programs, their pupil assignments can wait.

Anonymous said...

The issue at Eastover isn't just as simple as making the boundary smaller. The demographics have changed in this area and the school boundaries don't reflect this. Take a look at the Eastover Elem boundary. There are three full magnets within its zone.

These magnets (MP and Eliz Trad and Park Rd. Mont) have been around for a long time (before all the young families started moving to this area in droves) and are very popular. But are these magnets really serving the best interest of the community by not using these schools for the surrounding residents? And the Traditional magnet theme doesn't even continue to Middle School so is it really providing differentiated curriculum?

These magnets are a hot potato that the school board won't touch but it's crystal clear when you look at the boundary map. Someone needs to have the guts to address the big picture and not just shave of a neighborhood or two and call the problem solved.

Anonymous said...

While you're at it Trent, lets revisit the entire Mint Hill disaster, a plan you admitted was not the best. Be a real leader and put this back on the table-before the mass reassignent begins. Why did it take only 20 minutes to approve Bailey Rd, and 3 months to approve Mint Hill? Because the leader of your Board allowed herself to draw boundary lines and disregard the Guiding Principles-that were established after the AKHS reassignment. Be fair to all students-not just the ones living in District 5! You were right-families have already begun reassigning themselves!

Anonymous said...

Why do candidates espouse "stability"? Why couldn't East Meck get the same consideration for "stability" while for the past 10 years the school board has chipped away at the East Meck population? Admit it, the school board doesn't want to upset MP parents. It's time for some real leadership.

Anonymous said...

Bussing for racial quotas has been deemed illegal. Stop the back door doesn't work on any level. Parents will indeed "reassign" themsleves, leaving CMS to start having to cast a wider and wider net to get "non free lunch" students until there are not any left in the entire system, and the "free lunch" kids are left with ever worsening futures. Go to these kids WHERE THEY LIVE and actually do something to help them. If simply sitting next to money made you richer we'd all be camped out in the bank parking lot.

FEDUP said...

Exactly how has the board "chipped away" at East? and exactly how is "chipping away" at MP going to help East? Is this revenge on East Meck's part? Moving MP kids to East will not make it MP. Quit trying to steal our kids to make yours look better.

Anonymous said...

So, not upsetting parents - who the school board is CALLED TO SERVE AND REPRESENT is somehow a bad thing? Since when is screwing over your constituency the way it should be? TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for where you chose to live and send your kids before engaging in the politics of envy and bitterness.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no "envy" of Myers Park. This is about making things right by East. Why should we sit back while the board takes 700 students and say nothing. Would you do the same at Myers Park? It's never happened to MP so you have no idea the battles we fight. Why can't we have two great inner city schools?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous spoke about 3 of the magnet schools (Myers Park, Elizabeth Trad. and Park Road Montessori) Forgot about Dilworth Elementary Magnet. Remove the magnet on Dilworth and let the Dilworth kids go to a "home school". Include Wilmore and Sedgefield and the overcrowding would be over!

Anonymous said...

I have two kids at MP and it is terribly overcrowded. I believe there are neighborhoods should be going to East Meck (Costwold for one). My daughter's pre-cal class has 48 students! Would it be so terrible to send some of our students to East which is actually closer for them?

Anonymous said...

I live in one of the neighborhoods affected by the poorly thought out rezoning proposal.

1. Myers Park is 2.5 miles from my house while East Meck is 5 miles away.
2. Our neighborhoods are part of the Myers Park / South Park community. Our kids play little league together, we go to church together, shop in the same places etc... Shouldnt we go to school together?
3. Cotswold Elementary is a success story. The "opting-in" to Cotswold Elementary has a lot to do with the school pyramid. Cotswold is a school where children of many different backgrounds interact.
4. Re-zoning will only affect the children of less affluent parents. The affluent families in the affected areas will "opt-out" and send their children to private schools. East Meck does not have the reputation of MPHS- right wrong or indifferent.
5. Raw numbers do not tell the story of how crowded a school is or is not. If you've seen the utilization figures MPHS isnt out of guideline in the least (nor is East Meck compared to its actual design). A single point of data (your daughter's pre-calc class) isn't meaningful without context.
6. The Mint Hill debacle shows just how badly the sitting board handles reassignment. Why give them another shot to screw things up for even more people?

"fixing" schools by moving/re-assigning students is lazy. If CMS improved the product of EM according to obvious measurable standards people would be clamoring to go there. Right now you have EM parents trying to take kids from MPHS and MPHS parents saying no thank you. Why dont the EM parents put the pressure on the board to improve the education their children receive?

Anonymous said...

If your daughter's precalc class is crowded maybe they should send the folks to the east of MP to Waddell. I'm sure she'd have plenty of room in her pre calc class then.

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