Friday, January 13, 2012

Give preK-8 schools a checkup?

To really get a feel for how things are going at Charlotte-Mecklenburg's new preK-8 schools,  a panel of volunteers should be sent in to do a checkup,  says Dr.  Becka Tait.

Tait  --  a pediatrician,  CMS parent and member of the League of Women Voters Education Committee  --  told the school board it should revive its Equity Committee to get beyond the data at these eight new schools,  which will play a crucial role in getting kids from impoverished neighborhoods ready for high school.  (Read more about the preK-8 schools in Sunday's Observer.)

"It's time to ask those students 'How are you doing?' " Tait said. Volunteers could flesh out staff reports,  she said.

Equity  --  the concept of making sure all schools get what they need to educate their students  --  may be the biggest question looming for the new school board and the superintendent they hire this spring.  There are sharp differences in the community about how to define and execute equity,  and the current board will have to hash out its own approach.

The Equity Committee illustrates the challenges.  In 2002,  as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was moving from court-ordered desegregation to a neighborhood-based student assignment plan,  the school board created the panel to monitor and report on progress.  Over the years,  the committee did some interesting research that included extensive school visits and data-crunching.  But there were always questions about what the board expected and what it would do with the mandatory annual reports.

By 2009,  when an election brought in five new members,  the committee's existence was controversial.  Some in the community and on the board viewed it as a holdover from the battle over busing.  Others thought it was an essential voice for schools and communities that might be overlooked.  There were rifts,  sometimes rancorous ones,  among committee members who represented different views.  The then-new board voted to end the requirement for Equity Committee reports,  and the committee stopped meeting in spring of 2010.

Now there's a new board majority.  The revival of the committee is probably not the top issue on anyone's agenda.  But the bigger questions of equity  --  how it's defined, what it means for schools across Mecklenburg County and how the community is engaged  -- loom large. 

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