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.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

North Meck's Poole: Redo boundaries

Some residents of northern Mecklenburg County have been upset about high school boundaries since Hough High opened in Cornelius in 2010.  Jimmy Poole,  who retired as principal of North Mecklenburg High in 2005 and leads the North Meck alumni association,  has been a spokesperson for the view that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools damaged his former school by removing most of the white, middle-class and suburban students,  leaving North to serve northern Charlotte.

He recently wrote to Huntersville officials spelling out some of the consequences of the changes and suggesting boundary changes he hopes the school board will make. Read his letter here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CMS raises: Who got $17,000?

After a month of Observer queries about the market adjustment raises Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools awarded in a June 26 vote, CMS has released the details on who got what. Read the list here.

Almost 250 salaried staff, including many principals and assistant principals, got market raises, and 26 got annual bumps of $10,000 or more. Before today,  CMS had said only that those raises were as high as $17,202 a year.  That top raise went to Susan Norwood, executive director of the federally funded merit pay program known as TIF-LEAP.

Everyone gets a 3 percent raise as part of the $1.2 billion budget approved Tuesday. But almost 6,000 people are getting additional raises based on a 2007 Deloitte Consulting study that showed their jobs were paying below market rates. Those who got market raises will get the 3 percent hike on top of that increase.

Here's the Q & A CMS sent employees to explain the raises.

To see what salaries were before the 2012-13 raises, check the CMS salary database.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Morrison's final eval, Hattabaugh's farewell

Heath Morrison got a final job evaluation from the Washoe County school board this week, and it's glowing. He got top marks in every category, with the board calling him "a recognized tour de force."

Wednesday was Morrison's last day as superintendent in Reno; he starts work as head of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Monday.

Read the summary of his evaluation here and the full report here. The rating scale used in Washoe County is here.

Meanwhile, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who will leave the district when he leaves the post, sent this message to CMS employees:

From: Hugh E. Hattabaugh
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 11:19 AM
To: cmsmailall
Subject: Thank you and farewell

Dear CMS employees,

As I leave CMS, I want to thank all of you for helping make my year as interim superintendent a success. Your work, your attention to duty and your dedication helped make the 2011-2012 school year a strong one.

We had a successful opening of schools in August, launching the Pre-K-8 schools and adapting smoothly to the changes wrought by school closures and new bell schedules. Transportation, Child Nutrition, building maintenance, human resources, curriculum and instruction – every department worked effectively this year.

September brought national recognition with the Broad Prize – another acknowledgement that we have some of the best teachers, principals and employees of any district in America!

As the year progressed, the budget uncertainties were less damaging. Unlike many districts in North Carolina, we anticipated the end of the federal EduJobs money. Careful financial planning spared us a reduction in force this year. And I’m happy to tell you that your three percent raise is almost certainly on the way. Our Board of Education has provided a plan for paying the raises to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, which should free up the $18.5 million the county set aside for raises. Coupled with cuts and redirections, as well as some state money, there is enough to fund the raises in our original budget request. If you’d like to see how the raise will affect the teacher salary schedule, view the attachment.

I’m very proud of early returns on the end-of-year tests. Preliminary data – final numbers will not come from the state until October – suggest we have increased the number of schools making high growth by 10 percent – from 45 percent to 55 percent. More than half our schools made high growth. Preliminary data also shows that our graduation rate rose by about two percentage points, to around 75 percent (the precise number continues to bounce around but hovers around 75). These increases are meaningful. They show that CMS is increasing achievement, school by school, student by student. This is our core mission and we made real progress this year.

All of you should take pride in that academic growth and in our successful year, because all of you had a role in it. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead CMS this year, and I wish each of you all the best as CMS continues its journey under the leadership of Dr. Heath Morrison. I’ve worked in several districts in Indiana, Arkansas and Florida – and this district and its employees are second to none. Thank you for all you do.

Best regards,

Hugh E. Hattabaugh
Interim Superintendent
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Government Center
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

Monday, June 18, 2012

Twin law gives parents new power

Putting twins, triplets and other siblings into separate classes may be standard practice, but the N.C. General Assembly has legislated that parents get to decide whether that's the best approach for their children. Here's the text of the law, which is being circulated by parent groups and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
SECTION 1.   Article 25 of Chapter 115C of the General Statutes is amended by
adding a new section to read:
§ 115C-366.3. Classroom placement of multiple birth siblings.
(a) As used in this section, the term "multiple birth siblings" means twins, triplets, quadruplets, or other siblings resulting from a multiple birth.
(b) The parent of multiple birth siblings who are assigned to the same grade level and school may request a consultative meeting with the school principal to consider that the initial school placement of the siblings be in the same classroom or in separate classrooms. The request must be made no later than five days before the first day of each school year or five days after the first day of attendance of students during the school year if the students are enrolled in the school after the school year commences. The school may recommend to the parent the appropriate classroom placement for multiple birth siblings and may provide professional educational advice to assist the parent with the decision regarding appropriate classroom placement.
(c) Except as provided in subsection (d), (e), or (f) of this section, a school shall provide the multiple birth siblings with the classroom placement requested by the parent.
(d) A school is not required to place multiple birth siblings in separate classrooms if the request would require the school district to add an additional class to the grade level of the multiple birth siblings.
(e) At the end of the first grading period following the multiple birth siblings' enrollment in the school, if the principal of the school, in consultation with the teacher of each classroom in which the multiple birth siblings are placed, determines that the requested classroom placement is disruptive to the school, the principal may determine the appropriate classroom placement for the siblings.
(f) This section does not affect the right of a school administrative unit, principal, or teacher to remove a student from a classroom pursuant to the student discipline policies of that school administrative unit.

SECTION 2.    This act becomes effective beginning with the 2011-2012 school year.
In the General Assembly read three times and ratified this the 17th day of June, 2011.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Inside the 'Rock Hell' Hells Angels

The indictment that prompted today's arrests of 19 members and associates of the Rock Hell City Nomad Chapter of the Hells Angels offers a rare glimpse into the secret workings of the motorcycle club -- a detailed system of hierarchy, rules and biker-speak.

Among the highlights alleged in the indictment:

- Regular chapter meetings were referred to as "church," and only full-time members could attend.

- The chapter president had ultimate decision-making authority and reported directly to regional officers of the Hells Angels. Regular East Coast officer meetings rotated from state to state. Agenda items included  chapter updates, world events, world votes and financial matters.

- The Rock Hell City Nomad Chapter was started in Rock Hill, S.C., in 2008. Prior, the group operated as God's Few until it was "patched over" into the Hells Angels.

Winged death head
- Full membership was referred to as "full patch," and meant the member had permission to wear the full three-piece patch on jackets and vests. It included the club emblem (the winged death head); surrounded by the top "rocker" with the words "Hells Angels" and a bottom rocker identifying the territory claimed by the club.

- Members may also wear a diamond-shaped one-percenter patch that reflected the Hells Angels recognition that its members are among the one percent of motorcyclists who are "non-law-abiding outlaws."

- Associates who are not members, including girlfriends and wives, are referred to as "old ladies" and may wear the numbers 81. The 8 and the 1 stand for the alphabet positions of the letters H and A.

- Membership was limited to white males. They had to own one or more American-made motorcycles, mostly Harley Davidsons.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Latest plan for CMS raises

As Mecklenburg County commissioners prepare for tonight's budget vote, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart has emailed them a plan for a "three-way partnership" to provide 3 percent raises to CMS employees. She asks commissioners to go back to the plan County Manager Harry Jones presented,  which boosts the CMS budget for 2012-13 by about $9 million without putting restrictions on the money.  Commissioners voted informally but unanimously last week to approve the total sum Jones recommended but put about $18.5 million into a restricted fund that would be released only for raises.

This proposal can be a bit confusing,  especially the reference to a $10 million decrease in the state discretionary cut.  As careful readers may decipher,  a decrease in a cut equates to an increase in the money CMS planned for when preparing its budget this spring.  CMS and the county are waiting to see what state lawmakers approve for education spending.

It's unclear whether this proposal will cause a majority of commissioners to rethink the restricted fund. "I have read it twice and I am still not sure what she is driving at,"  said Commissioner Bill James,  who has long pushed for restricting CMS money.

Here's the email:

From: Ericka Ellis-Stewart [mailto:ericka.ellis-stewart@cms.k12.nc.us]
Sent: Tuesday, June 05, 2012 10:42 AM
To: harold.cogdell@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; jim.pendergraph@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; jennifer.roberts@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; karen.bentley@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; vilma.leake@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; george.dunlap@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; dumontclarke@mvalaw.com; neil.cooksey@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov; Wjames@carolina.rr.com
Cc: Rhonda Lennon; Richard McElrath; Joyce Waddell; Tom Tate; Eric C. Davis; Amelia Stinson-Wesley; Tim Morgan; Mary T. McCray; Hugh E. Hattabaugh; Sheila W. Shirley; George E. Battle; LaTarzja N. Henry
Subject: Open Letter from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Dear Commissioners,

Over the past few years both of our Boards have had to face difficult, controversial issues. Both of us have had to make decisions we wish we had not had to make. The Board of Education respects your decisions, and we want to thank you for the support you have provided our public school students and staff during these financially challenging times.

Recently, many of us have had the opportunity to discuss with Commissioners our 2012-2013 budget request. We have heard a number of concerns such as, why are we looking to the County to fund raises that are a State responsibility, what are we doing ourselves to fund this increase if it is a high priority, how will we insure that our staff gets this pay increase? Reflecting on these conversations with you, our partners, we realize that we need to clarify our request. We consider our 2012-2013 budget request for additional funding to be a statement of our students’ needs to both the State and County. While by state law the Board of Education is required to make a formal request of the County, it is equally important to communicate that the funding for our students' needs could come from either of our two primary funders. And we have shared this statement of need with members of our State delegation.

More specifically, in providing a modest and well deserved 3% pay increase to our teachers and staff, as well as meeting our other needs, at this juncture we propose a three-way partnership to fund the budget. First, the Board of Education will provide at least $16.4mm through budget reductions already presented in our request.  The second component could come from at least a $10mm decrease in the discretionary cut in our State funding, pending action by the Legislature. This assumes the state funding is ongoing, without restrictions that would prevent us from leveraging that funding into a local level salary increase. This funding is far from a certainty. The final component could come from an unrestricted increase in county funding similar to the County Manager’s recommendation in the amount of $9.1mm. This approach enables the State, County, and CMS to share as a team the opportunity to improve our system and allows each partner to support CMS teachers and staff. Should our own cuts plus any additional recurring funds from the State and County exceed what is necessary to provide the 3% increase, we will use those recurring funds in accordance with our budget request which includes adding teachers in our 9th grade classrooms.

Another advantage of this approach is that we are able to avoid further staff reductions resulting in elevated class sizes which negatively impacted our students’ education. This approach will help to restore to some degree the morale of our teachers and staff and with it, provide a better classroom experience for our students.

We would be glad to continue to meet with you and to answer any questions you have about our budget. Again we thank you for your partnership and for supporting CMS students in the past and in the future.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hattabaugh: CMS raises aren't certain

Mecklenburg County commissioners said Wednesday that their preliminary agreement to restrict $18.5 million of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget was designed to ensure that employees get 3 percent raises. But interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh has sent a mass email warning that CMS leaders are studying "possible consequences of accepting restricted money" and celebration would be premature.

Here's his email:

Dear CMS employees,

On Wednesday, May 30, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners held a straw vote on CMS funding, saying our requested raise would be partially funded by a restricted contingency. This means that the commissioners will withhold $18.5 million of our total county funding until we have shown the commissioners proof that the raises have been given.

The county manager’s proposal would give CMS a total of $335 million plus about $2 million in fines-and-forfeiture money. The total of $337 million is significantly less than the $356 million we requested and the county would hold on to $18.5 million of it until proof is provided that employees will get a three percent raise. The total cost of this raise is more than $26 million.

Forcing us to use county money in this way, coupled with giving us less than we requested, means that we will have to cut more from our operating budget, unless the state funding exceeds our estimate. This is unprecedented. To have our operating budget restricted by a governing body other than the Board of Education is not desirable. For that reason, our Board members are concerned and are reviewing the possible consequences of accepting restricted money in this way.

The good news for employees is that the county commission appears to be aware of your value to our community. However, the final budget votes have yet to be taken. We also do not yet know the final amount of our state allocation, which accounts for about two-thirds of our funding.

For that reason, I’d hold off on celebrating your raise just yet. We will keep you informed as our Board and the county take action on the budget.

Best Regards,

Hugh E. Hattabaugh

Interim Superintendent
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Government Center
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

$95 an hour to retrieve school board emails

After the Observer requested emails related to travel spending sent by school board members in May, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools public information department responded with this cost estimate from Southeastern Technology Group, which archives emails for CMS.

CMS communications head LaTarzja Henry said emails less than a month old are generally retrieved free by CMS staff,  and she was not sure why her staff had sought a proposal from the contractor rather than launching in-house retrieval.  She said she believes the recent emails can be provided at no cost,  but offered no timetable.

Mecklenburg County recently created a 26-page public records policy detailing how emails and other records should be handled and provided to the public. CMS has no such policy,  instead relying on N.C. public records law,  Henry said. The N.C. Records Services Branch also provides this guidance on public school records.  Both the law and the guidelines are complex, with room for interpretation on allowable fees.

Friday, May 11, 2012

CMS awards iPads but slows wifi rollout

The rumors are true:  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools won't be inviting all students and staff to bring their own tablets and smartphones to school in August after all. The January announcement of the sweeping "bring your own technology" plan raised interest and questions, and the March departure of the technology chief who was leading the plan started people buzzing that it wouldn't happen on schedule.

After the Observer asked repeatedly about the status of the project, CMS offered this report on the results of a competition among teaching teams who wanted iPads to use in class: "The 970 Innovation for Transformation grant applications submitted by professional learning communities in 153 schools have been reviewed, and the scoring committee has awarded grants to 73 schools. Each grant will provide an iPad for each member of the PLC and a classroom set of 10 iPads for each classroom teacher in the PLC. A total of 3,970 iPads will be available for student use."

And interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh provided this update on rolling out wireless internet access:

We are continuing to build the wireless infrastructure in our schools to accommodate the Bring Your Own Technology initiative. We’ve got wireless networks now at 151 of 159 schools. We are being deliberate and thoughtful as we upgrade technology at our schools, and the work is being done in phases.

We have budgeted $10.6 million for this work: $6.6 million for infrastructure, $3.5 million for devices and $500,000 for professional development. The first phase is the wireless installation at all schools, which should be finished by early summer except at a handful of schools undergoing construction this summer. The wireless installation comes first because it will enable the iPad grant winners to use their new devices.

Next, we’ll set up guest wireless networks which will allow students and staff to use their own devices. Right now, our networks are closed to outside devices to keep the school environment secure.

We also want to be sure that our staff and students are prepared for these changes in technology. We will need to add specific expectations for wireless usage – an acceptable-use policy -- to the student code of conduct. We will need to train our teachers and staff so that we get the maximum academic benefit from the technology. We also want to be sure that we provide equal access to the benefits across the district.

So we are proceeding carefully and in phases. Once the wireless infrastructure is complete, we’ll begin this summer installing guest-wireless networks at pilot schools in each zone. We haven’t made final decisions yet on which schools or how many – but I can say that there is a lot of interest on the part of the schools. We’re getting lots of requests to be part of the pilot. The final decision on pilot schools will be made by our zone superintendents in collaboration with our IT team.

The guest wireless networks will be filtered, just as district internet access is filtered now. They will also be a secure environment. We will train our teachers and other school personnel so that this increased access is used appropriately and effectively in all schools. We’ll continue to share information about decisions as they are made. It’s important to also keep in mind that all of the technology we’re using and will use in the near future is supplemental, not required for students to learn.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Morrison greets his new staff

After winning unanimous approval for a four-year contract as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Heath Morrison sent an email blast to CMS employees today. Morrison, who currently leads Washoe County Schools in Reno, Nev., starts work in Charlotte on July 1.

From: cmscommunications
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 1:18 PM
To: cmsmailall
Subject: From incoming superintendent Heath Morrison

To hear Dr. Morrison speak, click here.

Good afternoon,

At its April 24 meeting, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted unanimously to name me superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I am honored by this vote of confidence and I look forward to our partnership as a high-function governance team dedicated to the continuous improvement of CMS.

My journey to CMS is rooted in my own experience as a teacher. I began my career as a teacher and I still consider myself a teacher – just one who is on special assignment. When I visited CMS a couple weeks ago, a lot of people asked me if I am ready to lead CMS. I believe that I am.

For three years, I have been superintendent of the Washoe County School District in Nevada, which has 65,000 students and 102 schools. Our board and I have worked collaboratively with teachers, leaders, staff and a community committed to better schools. We have established a bold vision and a strategic plan to ensure success for all students, we have followed this plan and we have seen our graduation rate increase dramatically and our student achievement rise.

My experiences in Nevada will help me lead CMS. I was drawn to this district because it is one that is already nationally recognized. I have deep professional respect for the leadership of this district, including Hugh Hattabaugh, who has served as interim superintendent and done an outstanding job. I’m also looking forward to working collaboratively with Ann Clark. Their leadership, and the work of so many dedicated employees, has helped make CMS a quality public school district.

Another factor in my decision to join CMS was family. My family and my wife’s family live on the East Coast and relocating will allow us to see our families more. That’s important to us.

The challenge before us now is to make CMS even better – and I believe that we can if we work collaboratively and effectively. What do I plan to do as superintendent? I am developing an entry plan now and I’ll be sharing it soon with all CMS employees and the public. The main goal of that entry plan will be to follow the advice of Stephen R. Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Another way to say that is listen first, talk second – and that’s what I plan to do.

I want to hear your views. How will we define success? What areas can we improve?  How can we raise achievement and close the gaps? I want to visit every school in CMS – and I started on that goal during my visit April 24 by going to Walter G. Byers Elementary, J. M. Robinson Middle and Providence High. I spoke with parents and staff on these school visits. I want to hear what principals, teachers, staff and students have to say. I want to hear what the community has to say – not only community leaders but all members of the public, parents and others who care about schools.

Working together, I believe we can continue to improve our schools so that every student can be educated well and have the promise of a better tomorrow.  All of us believe in that – it is both a starting point and a goal. There is significant work ahead. I look forward to working with all of you on behalf of our students.

Heath Morrison

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Millions for teacher iPad competition

Update:  CMS officials later said the $10 million for one-time technology projects includes four other projects, with amounts not yet set.  The iPad project is expected to get less than half, according to a memo to the school board. 

There's a pot of about $10 million for buying teacher iPads, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said today. This week the district notified teachers they can compete for iPads for themselves and their classrooms, part of the push to get all schools more active in digital learning.

Here's what CMS sent out:

Innovation for Transformation Grant Application 2012
Professional Learning Communities in each of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are invited to apply for the 2012 Innovation for Transformation Grant.  Today’s students must be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore.  Today’s teachers must use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.  In order for the learning environments of today to effectively meet the needs of the 21st century digital learner, a transformation must occur.  The 2012 Innovation for Transformation Grant provides an opportunity for PLCs in CMS to embark on a transformational journey filled with innovative professional development, digital resources, and effective student engagement.  Please join us in the transformation!

Applications must be submitted by March 30, 2012 at 5:00PM
PLC award recipients will be announced in May.
Please review the following information and requirements for the 2012 Innovation for Transformation Grant program:

Informational sessions will be offered the week of March 12-17 to expose teachers and PLCs to the various ways technology can be integrated in the learning environment to help generate ideas for the grant application (these sessions are optional).
Technology integration strategies must be embedded in the School Improvement Plan linking the way in which awarded equipment will be integrated into the learning environment

Teacher devices will be distributed prior to the end of school during a 3-hour professional development session.

PLC attendance at a summer institute session will be required for grant winners

Summer learning virtual courses will be completed by grant winners

Professional development opportunities will occur through-out the 2012-2013 school year  and will be required to ensure the effective use of digital tools and resources

Each teacher in the PLC will receive an Innovation Kit which includes: Teacher iPad, student iPads (up to 10 per teacher), iPad cases, 1 wireless keyboard, 1 VGA cable, 1 charging/storage tray, and an iTunes App Voucher
Completing the application

School based PLCs will complete the grant application as a team. If selected as a winning recipient, each PLC will continue to work together at the school level to plan, implement, and facilitate an innovative digital learning environment.

Tentative Schedule:

Optional Integration Sessions

Location: Lincoln Heights
Dates: myPD Class Name: Innovation Integration Session
3/12 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
3/14 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
3/15 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
3/16 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
3/17 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Content: Demonstrations and interactive sessions on both how to present/use as a teaching tool and how a student would use the device

iPad Distribution and Set Up

Location: (TBD)
Dates: (TBD)
Sessions: (TBD)
Content: Set up teacher’s iPad and provide brief overview of use

Required Summer Institute Sessions

Location: (TBD)
Dates: Week of June 25-28, and a make-up day in August
Format: Will select one full day session from 8:00AM-4:00PM during the week of June 25-28
Content: Open in auditorium with key note speaker and group messages on best practices and protocols, followed by differentiated break-out sessions on consumption and production, including information on BYOT

Hattabaugh: Change teacher pay scale

Changing North Carolina's teacher pay scale is "the most important reform needed in public education today," interim CMS Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Tuesday. His remarks were emailed to employees; here's what he told the lawmakers.

Good afternoon. I’m Hugh Hattabaugh, interim superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Thank you for inviting me to speak today about our district’s work on effective evaluation and compensation of teachers.

My remarks today are the analysis and observations from the staff at CMS. The perspective of the Board of Education will be provided by Ericka Ellis-Stewart, our Board chair, who will speak after me.

We believe this is the most important reform needed in public education today. In order to succeed, all of our students need to be well educated. They are going to compete with others around the world for college placement and jobs. We need to do a better job of making them competitive. The classroom teacher is the key to success because the classroom teacher is the single biggest school-based factor in student achievement. We need to encourage and reward more effective teaching, so our students learn more and learn more quickly.

The state salary schedule for teachers does not encourage teacher growth and improvement. It doesn’t differentiate between top performers and mediocre ones. It doesn’t differentiate between teachers in hard-to-fill content areas and others.  As one example: We need the very best teachers in STEM areas, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But the state’s salary structure doesn’t recognize how competitive these jobs are, making it unlikely that we’ll be able to lure potentially great teachers from other fields where STEM knowledge is valued, such as finance and medicine.

The new Common Core standards are another reason for urgency. As we begin to increase rigor in our classrooms, we need to be sure teachers are able to help students master a more rigorous curriculum.
Some of our teachers are doing a great job of making sure students learn. Some are doing an adequate job in the classroom. And some are not.  We need a way to identify who’s who – a reliable, accurate, affordable and easily understandable way to measure teacher effectiveness. Who’s doing great work? Who needs professional development and coaching to do better work? Who might be better suited to other work?

Right now, we can’t really answer those questions. That’s because the way we evaluate and compensate our teachers doesn’t effectively link teachers’ performance to their students’ achievement. So we don’t know who’s great, who’s adequate and who is not. We don’t know enough about the coaching and training that could turn our average teachers into great teachers.

Our compensation and evaluation system is broken. It doesn’t distinguish between great work, good work or poor work in the classroom. What we’re using is almost a century old – it’s essentially the same salary schedule used in American public education since the 1920s. The three qualifications that make the biggest difference in teacher compensation are years of experience, National Board certification and advanced degrees. Teachers who have these things get paid more than those who do not. But these three things often make virtually no difference in student achievement. Some teachers improve when they earn them; others do not. So they’re not a good proxy for measuring a teacher’s value.

Our teacher evaluation and compensation structure doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing who’s great, who’s good and who’s not. Nationally, more than 95 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory on their evaluations – yet our high school graduation rate continues to languish at less than 75 percent nationally. How can nearly all of our teachers be considered successful if less than three-fourths of our students are completing high school?

At CMS, we are trying to close that disconnect. We want to develop a way to distinguish between our great teachers, our good teachers and our inadequate ones. We want to reward great teachers so they stay with us and continue to grow. We want to retain our good teachers, too, and help them improve in the classroom by providing the right coaching and training.

So we are working on better standards and compensation structures for our teachers and other employees. We’re not finished yet. There is much we have left to do. But we have learned some important lessons in this work.

We have learned that any successful evaluation/compensation plan must have four elements.
First, it must have reliable and accurate measurements. That’s measurements with an ‘s’ – good teaching is too complex and too nuanced to be effectively measured with just a single test score or one evaluation measure. We’re looking at nine areas that could be measured, and we’ll talk more about that in a few minutes. We also need to measure the right things – the skills and attributes that increase student achievement.

Second, a successful plan needs to be sustainable. That means we must be able to afford to keep doing it year after year. We’ve all seen what happens to teachers’ morale when they’re told they’ll get bonuses for good work and then they don’t. We have seen that very recently in fact, when North Carolina didn’t pay out ABC bonuses. It breaks teachers’ faith in the system and hurts morale.

It needs to be sustainable and the right kind of payout, too. The existing research also suggests that short-term financial incentives such as bonuses are unlikely to improve teacher performance by themselves. Your information packets have some details about some research studies done in Nashville, Chicago and New York that show the shortcomings of short-term bonuses.

But other studies have found that some short-term programs can help attract and retain highly effective teachers. There are programs in Denver and Houston that rewarded effective teachers and helped reduce turnover. That’s important – we want our best teachers to stay. Attrition levels in teaching are nearly 50 percent in the first three years, and that’s too high.

We don’t have much research about long-term plans because none have been tried for long enough to gather data. As I said at the beginning, we’ve been using the salary structure we have now since the 1920s. So there’s not a lot of hard evidence out there yet that we have seen. That doesn’t mean it won’t work – just that nobody has come up with the right plan yet.

Our own experience suggests that short-term bonuses can work in the right setting. Money is not the prime motivator for teachers but it can be an effective incentive in conjunction with other things. A few years ago we launched a High School Challenge, offering extra money to teachers willing to come to some of our most difficult high schools. Some teachers signed on but not enough for us to use all the money we received. We used only $14.5 million of $18 million planned for a three-year period – and we ended up changing the way we allocated the money, as well. We learned that money by itself was not enough to draw teachers to a situation that looked difficult.

So we took another look and came up with a plan that we thought might work better, and it did. It’s called Strategic Staffing Initiative and we’ve put it to work in 26 schools thus far. We’ve seen remarkable improvements in nearly every school – double-digit improvements in test scores, visible changes in school culture.

Strategic Staffing combines a mix of incentives. We chose highly effective principals – those with a proven track record of success – and told them they could take as many as five teachers with them to their new schools. We told them they could also ask for reassignment for up to five teachers at the new school who weren’t on board with the improvement plans. We gave the principal increased flexibility in managing the school and gave them three years to turn things around. The principals and the teachers who accepted Strategic Staffing assignments did get more money as part of the package.

It’s been an overwhelming success in the first three years. We think all of the elements played a part: Teachers were willing to go to a difficult school if they trusted the new leadership. Principals were willing to take on the challenge if they had the beginnings of a strong team as a foundation for school turnarounds.  The money sweetened the mix. We’ve included some slides showing improvement at our Strategic Staffing schools over the past three years in your information packets. But we haven’t come up with the right plan to keep principals and teachers in those schools after three years, and we’ve seen some attrition in years four and five.

The other limitation we’ve discovered with Strategic Staffing is making sure you have a deep enough bench. We need more great principals to keep moving them into challenging schools. And that brings me to the third element of a successful plan:

A successful plan needs to be scalable. We’ve done some work with the Teachers Incentive Fund and Leadership for Educators’ Advanced Performance, or TIF/LEAP. One thing we have learned is that it would be very hard to expand this program district- or state-wide. TIF/LEAP used Student Learning Objectives created by individual teachers. Teachers who met their objectives got extra money. But it’s difficult to take to scale because it means extra staff to approve the objectives in the beginning, then check that they were achieved in the end. Each teacher’s work must be checked individually, and that takes a lot of time and effort. So we’ve concluded that we have to strike a balance between a plan that is so broad that it misses the nuances of great teaching, and a plan so individual that we can’t afford to do it for all teachers.

Finally, a successful plan has to be easy to understand. People will not support something that they can’t understand. Teachers who are being evaluated need to understand how the evaluation process  works and how their assessments are calculated. Again, looking at the TIF/LEAP work, that was a problem for us. The calculation of bonuses was very complex and most of our teachers did not understand how it was done. It’s also a problem with the value-added calculations we are developing. We think value-added is the best measure of a teacher’s contribution to students’ academic achievement. But it is a very complex calculation. Teachers don’t understand it and it’s hard to build trust in that environment. We’re working on ways to address this issue.

While we’ve encountered some staff resistance to a value-added measure, we also see broad-based support for this work. Our community wants us to strengthen schools. Our surveys have shown that parents and the community think performance-based pay is a good idea. On our most recent CMS Parent/Community Survey, in November of last year, nearly 80 percent of participants agreed with the statement that “A performance-based compensation system is needed to recruit and keep highly effective teachers.” Another survey done in July found 74 percent supported differentiating pay for teachers based on how well they help students improve.

So there’s support on one side of the equation: the community and our families. But we need support on the other side: teachers themselves. It’s an uphill battle for a lot of reasons.

First, change that can directly affect your paycheck is threatening. The current system isn’t very good in many ways. It doesn’t put students first. It doesn’t help teachers identify ways to improve. But  it’s been there a long time. Teachers understand it, they know it and for many of them who have stepped and laddered their way into top scales, it’s a case of “better the devil you know.” So it’s a hard sell in any environment.

At CMS, the recent economic environment has made it even harder. Three years ago, we had the first reduction in force in our public schools since the 1930s. We had to lay off teachers, teacher assistants, principals and other school and district staff. Teaching, which had long been a very secure profession, didn’t look so secure any more. And introducing a performance-based pay scale made it look even less secure to many of our teachers. Layoffs don’t build trust and morale. The pain and the memory of those layoffs has lingered.

We also have learned that it’s important to get information out quickly and accurately. We’ve struggled with this because our performance-based plan is in development. We want to share information but we don’t have the full picture yet. That has made it easier for opponents of performance-based pay to find fault with it, to build opposition to it. We don’t have a complete solution to this problem, either. We’re working to share information with teachers, and we’re working to include them in the process of developing the standards. Teacher working groups are developing additional measures to provide a fuller understanding of a teacher’s effectiveness than what we learn from test scores by themselves.

One issue that we’ve seen is that calling it performance-based pay created a lot of anxiety. It’s also not the most accurate term for it. What we are trying to build is a system that will not only identify which teachers need help but provide that help. That means strengthening professional development for teachers, and that’s a big part of this work as well. What we are trying to build is not intended to be a punitive plan. It’s intended to strengthen our schools and help our students by helping teachers improve and getting the best teachers we can into our classrooms. But there has been widespread mistrust and anxiety that we are only trying to punish our teachers, and that’s not true.

What we are working on building is a teacher evaluation tool that will take into account the many aspects of great teaching. We need a measure that breaks teaching into its component parts and analyzes each one, so that our coaching and our training actually helps teachers do a better job of teaching.

The nine elements are:
Classroom management
Content pedagogy – how well teachers know the material being taught and how skillfully they impart this knowledge
Contributions to the professional learning community – how well teachers collaborate with others at their schools
Willingness and ability to take on hard-to-staff schools and subjects
Student learning objectives in a form that can be used district-wide
Student surveys – what students tell us about the teaching they receive
Professional consultations, in which effective teachers share their expertise with their peers and solicit feedback in order to improve
The teacher’s work product – how rigorous assignments, tests and homework are
Value-added – how much a teacher is able to move a student beyond the growth that student was expected to make

We think that to fairly and accurately measure the quality of teaching, we will need to look at all of those things and use what we learn to supplement the state’s evaluation tool for teachers. We will need measurements that meet the four standards I’ve discussed today. They will need to be reliable and accurate. They will need to be sustainable so that we can use them over many years. They will need to be scalable so that we can use them for all 9,200 teachers in CMS. They will need to be understandable so that teachers, parents and the community will see their value and support them.

We see this work as a three-stage process. We need to develop the best measures of effectiveness, which is what we’re working on now. We need to incorporate those measures into a comprehensive performance-management system, so that they are applied across our district. And we need to align recognition and rewards with high performance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CMS rethinks testing, ratings

Here's the letter interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh sent to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees before Tuesday night's school board meeting. The new "summative," or end-of-year tests and the value-added ratings based partly on those scores created controversy among teachers and parents last spring.

From: "Hugh E. Hattabaugh" <hugh.hattabaugh@cms.k12.nc.us>
Date: February 14, 2012 6:00:52 PM EST
To: cmsmailall <cmsmailall@cms.k12.nc.us>
Subject: Update on Assessments in CMS/Evaluations

Dear CMS employees:

We are changing the way we approach two areas of accountability and I wanted to share the specifics with you in advance of tonight’s Board of Education meeting where I will discuss the changes.

The first change involves summative testing. Starting next year, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) will pilot summative tests in nearly all subject areas. DPI has also recruited CMS to help develop these tests because we had already begun designing our own.

To avoid duplication, CMS will no longer work on developing our own summative tests except in three areas where the state has no plans to test. Those areas are fine and performing arts, and world languages. We will use the state summative tests to track student progress and instructional effectiveness in all other areas. We also do not plan to allocate any money for developing summative tests in the 2012-2013 budget.

We remain committed to measuring student achievement and using that data to strengthen our schools. Assessment is a key component of that. We will also continue to work on developing more effective ways to measure the quality of teaching.

The second change involves teacher and principal effectiveness measures on the state evaluation forms. As you know, CMS has been developing a value-added measure to assess teacher effectiveness in raising student achievement. Earlier this month, however, the State Board of Education approved an additional standard on teacher and principal evaluations. The additional standard – Standard Six on the teacher evaluation, Standard Eight on the principal evaluation -- is based on growth in student achievement. We have decided to use the state’s value-added measure, rather than continuing to develop our own.

Our value-added work was intended to measure what teachers bring to the classroom – how well they teach students. Based on our discussions with the state, and the information we have now, we think the state’s measurement for Standards Six and Eight will allow us to effectively evaluate teachers and principals’ contribution to student achievement.

The measure the state proposes to use is based on an EVAAS value-added measure. EVAAS  stands for Education Value-Added Assessment System. It’s a customized software system that is widely recognized and widely used -- including in CMS where teachers and principals have had the option of using EVAAS scores for at least five years. We are confident that it will be fair to teachers, principals and to students. It will not be completely transparent because it belongs to a private company, SAS. We will not be able to reproduce or recalculate it because we won’t have access to the calculation method.

We don’t know yet how many rankings on the evaluations there will be, or what they are. We do know that our teachers will be measured against a state average, rather than against just their peers in CMS. And we know that three years of a teacher’s EVAAS score will be used to calculate effectiveness, not just a single year.

Standards Six and Eight will go into effect this year, for the evaluations that will be done later this spring. But they won’t have data until September or October, after the state has processed state-test results and calculated EVAAS for our teachers and principals. So there’s a disconnect in time on those standards. The data for Standards Six and Eight will be put into the individual evaluations in the fall when it becomes available, and we will share the EVAAS data with teachers and principals.

We continue to believe that measuring teachers and principals using an academic growth standard as part of the evaluation is essential. We think the new state standards will do that – and using them will keep us from spending money to duplicate something the state has decided to do.

Hugh E. Hattabaugh
Interim Superintendent
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Government Center
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cogdell: County lacks money for CMS raises

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools shouldn't expect Mecklenburg County commissioners to raise taxes or slash services to provide across-the-board raises for CMS employees,  commissioners' Chair Harold Cogdell warned in a letter to CMS officials.

Read his letter here.

Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh unveiled his proposal to ask commissioners for an additional $25 million to $30 million for raises at a school board session in mid-January.  See the proposal and videos that CMS created to make its case here.

Cogdell sent the letter to CMS board Chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart after meeting with her on Thursday.  Cogdell and Ellis-Stewart were both elected to lead their boards in December.  Cogdell said Thursday was the first chance they had to get together and talk about the 2012-13 budget.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

CMS/Project LIFT partnership plans

Project LIFT,  the year-old philanthropic quest to pump $55 million into eight west Charlotte schools,  got an enthusiastic reception from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Saturday when it unveiled its plans for a groundbreaking partnership to transform the schools.

Read the plan here.

On Tuesday, the school board is scheduled to vote on a contract with Project LIFT.  Read a draft of that contract here.