A vote Wednesday on a dozen new school options for Charlotte-Mecklenburg students is the warmup for a countywide review of magnets and busing in 2014, some board members say.
I feel like thats something weve got to get to, board member Rhonda Lennon said last week.
The board will vote on 12 changes designed to create more options for hundreds of students in 2014-15. Those include new high schools on three college campuses and several magnets touting enhanced technology and preparation for high-demand careers.
Choice is central to Superintendent Heath Morrisons vision for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He was hired in 2012 to lead a district in transition. Even as the district was launching school changes made during the recession, it faced competition from a growing roster of charter schools.
The new options for 2014-15 must be approved quickly to be ready for the magnet application period, which starts Jan. 11. Board members have been discussing them publicly for months, although the cost of the changes has not yet been publicly reported. The agenda says that will be part of Wednesdays discussion.
Meanwhile, all principals have been charged with making plans for coming years to ensure that their schools are desirable to families, effective for students and competitive with private and charter schools. And a group of parents and CMS staff members is studying school hours and busing options, in response to controversial changes made in the face of budget cuts.
All of that adds up to a likely big-picture review in 2014.
Its something a few of us have kicked around, said vice chair Tim Morgan. Were probably close to being in a position to look at that.
The 2014-15 plans havent stirred up much controversy. CMS leaders have held meetings around the county to talk about the plans, with a final public hearing scheduled before Wednesdays vote.
Changes at Cochrane
A new magnet proposed for Cochrane Collegiate Academy in east Charlotte illustrates some of the opportunities and challenges CMS faces.
Two nearby charters with good reputations for serving minority and low-income students, KIPP Charlotte and Sugar Creek Charter School, compete with Cochrane for middle-school students. Charters, which are authorized by the state, are alternative public schools that report to independent boards.
With a little more than 600 students in 2010, Cochrane Middle was underfilled.
CMS added high school grades in 2011, part of a slate of budget-driven changes that included school closings and mergers. Before that, some students chose to attend small magnet high schools that didnt offer sports or a full roster of clubs. But this was the first time students were assigned to such a school based on where they lived.
Cochranes collegiate label offered no clear program; all CMS schools are designed to prepare students for college. Technology facilitator Kim Leighty said the school was supposed to focus on digital learning, but teachers werent well prepared for that.
For the coming year, Morrison plans to phase out Cochranes neighborhood high school, replacing it with a new iMeck Academy high school magnet. Modeled on Miami-Dades iPrep Academy, it offers students a blend of virtual classes and personal instruction and is designed to help them make career connections.
Leighty said teachers will spend two weeks at the CMS summer academy getting ready to teach in the new style, which frees them from some daily lesson prep and requires the ability to work with students who are working through different online lessons.
Twenty-four Cochrane 11th-graders are taking part in a test run of a small-scale version of iMeck Academy this year. The district used federal money for high-poverty schools to buy them classroom MacBooks and started to redo one classroom as the kind of technology lounge seen in Miamis academies. For now, that means brightly painted walls and chairs at small tables. By next year, the goal is to have couches, beanbags, high-top tables and other decor designed to feel more like a tech firm or a college lounge.
Leighty said Cochrane faculty members have been assured that CMS is budgeting to buy MacBooks for the new magnet students and create classrooms that enhance the academy theme.
So far, CMS officials have spoken publicly about the costs of the new programs mostly in general terms.
Wednesdays agenda includes a $150,000 grant request to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations Next Generation Learning Challenges to support the creation of Cochranes iMeck Academy. It also includes the announcement of a donation from Bosch Rexroth Corp., a German machine-parts manufacturer with a plant in Charlotte, to help Olympic High launch a school of advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurship next year.
The agenda includes a staff report on transportation, but it is not tied to board action or specific new recommendations.
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