Consider the throngs that met repeatedly in Mint Hill a couple of years ago to counter proposed Rocky River High boundaries. Or the folks who packed school board meetings and marched in the street last year when the board was preparing to close and merge westside schools.
Then consider last night's ho-hum turnout for the first two forums on hiring a new superintendent: about 20 at Butler High in Matthews, 40 at Johnson C. Smith University in west Charlotte. Weed out the school board members, moderators and presenters and you've got well under 50 combined.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that it takes a crisis to mobilize people around public education -- or at least it takes a specific change that affects them personally.
That's an ongoing challenge for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders, who are inevitably accused of failing to communicate once an issue explodes into public consciousness. (One odd omission: There were no signs directing people to the discussion sites last night -- people were on their own to navigate a college campus and a large high school.)
There are four more forums this week. It will be interesting to see who shows up. Will the people trying to create a stronger voice for Spanish-speaking families turn out for tonight's east Charlotte session? Will the Huntersville folks who got blindsided by Hough High boundary decisions be at North Meck on Thursday?
Whether or not you agree with their philosophy and style, you've got to respect the dedication of the "regulars" who turn out for all these evening sessions. At JSCU I saw Kojo Nantambu of the local NAACP; Elyse Dashew, a magnet parent who just ran for school board; and Blanche Penn, who's a speaker at most school board meetings. At Butler, my colleague Elisabeth Arriero spoke with Aidan McConnell, a Providence High senior whose work with Mecklenburg Youth Voice is immersing him in CMS politics and policy.
Board member Richard McElrath has his own idea about who needs to get motivated: Men.
The online survey about the superintendent search drew four female responses to every one from a male. The turnout at JCSU was even more skewed than that. When the gathering split into two discussion groups, McElrath found himself the only guy at the table.
"We need some men," he said. "The community needs to see males out there working hard."