CMS moves toward expanding magnets for 2014-15

ahelms@charlotteobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators fielded questions from parents and the school board Tuesday as the district moves toward expanding magnets and other options for 2014-15.

The board is scheduled to vote Dec. 11 on 10 new projects, including a new magnet high school on the UNC Charlotte campus and a new Montessori magnet at Long Creek Elementary.

They’ll also consider nine requests from neighborhoods or apartment complexes in southern Mecklenburg County to have their school assignments changed. Staff is recommending approval of only one of those requests, involving a handful of houses. Board members said they want more information about the new decision-making process for such requests.

Tuesday’s presentation largely echoed one made in October, but board members had time to ask questions. And several parents used the public comment period to voice support or raise concerns. Parents from Mountain Island Elementary School urged the board to support a plan to let rising fifth-graders stay for sixth grade next year, eventually expanding that school to K-8.

A parent from Chantilly Montessori School said the plan to expand public Montessori magnets is a good one, but she questioned whether CMS is moving too fast. The parent said it could be hard to find qualified teachers for the proposed preK-6 school at Long Creek because the Montessori method requires specialized training in techniques that promote self-directed learning.

Morrison said hiring those teachers is a high priority and he believes it can be done well for an August 2014 opening.

Board member Tom Tate asked about the cost of the new programs. Scott McCully, executive director of student placement, said the staff is working on costs. He and Morrison said the biggest costs would be installing modular classrooms at UNCC and adding an elevator at Cochrane Collegiate Academy to make second-floor classrooms accessible to people with disabilities. They said they’ll wait for the January magnet application period to see if there’s enough demand for a technology-based magnet to justify the cost.

Morrison also noted that plans presented during this year’s bond campaign to reopen Oakhurst, a closed elementary school, as a STEAM magnet (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) in August 2015 are not locked in. Voters approved $1.6 million to reopen the school. Morrison said he wanted to wait for that vote to talk to community members about specifics of the program, including whether it will be a full magnet school or include a neighborhood zone.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart raised cautions about the Long Creek plan and a proposal to create a STEM magnet at Coulwood Middle School, which is underfilled as a neighborhood school. She said staff needs to be sure they have solid plans that can work without harming nearby schools by pulling students away.

Board members also raised questions about the kind of transportation that will be offered for new magnets. Tate suggested it’s time for a full review of CMS magnet programs; the last such review was done in 2008.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms

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