CMS magnets: Board votes Wednesday; wider review likely in 2014

ahelms@charlotteobserver.comDecember 10, 2013 

  • Want to comment? The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes for 2014-15 at its meeting Wednesday at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. There is also a chance for the public to comment on other topics. To speak, call 980-343-5139 by noon Wednesday or sign up on site before the meeting starts at 6 p.m.
  • New options These proposals for the 2014-15 school year are up for a school board vote on Wednesday. College-based schools •  Cato Middle College: CMS will add “grade 13” to the existing Cato Middle College High in northeast Charlotte, allowing students to stay for another year to keep working on an associate’s degree at no charge. •  UNCC-EPIC Early College: School at UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center would eventually take 325 students in grades 9-13; scheduled to open in August with 65 ninth-graders. Students can spend up to five years earning a diploma and up to two years of tuition-free college credit. •  Levine Middle College: School at Central Piedmont Community College campus in Matthews would eventually take 200 students in grades 11-13; scheduled to open in January with 36 students and take 11th- and 12th-graders in August. Students can earn a diploma and a tuition-free associate’s degree. •  Harper Middle College: School at CPCC campus in southwest Charlotte would eventually take 200 students in grades 11-13; scheduled to open in August with 100 11th-graders. Magnets •  iMeck Academy: New high school magnet at Cochrane Collegiate Academy in east Charlotte would offer a mix of personal instruction and online classes to let students learn at their own pace. Would open with grades 9-10. Students currently assigned to Cochrane for high school move to Garinger unless they apply for the magnet. •  Elementary engineering: CMS will create an engineering magnet program at a new elementary school opening in the county’s southwest tip in August (school has not been named). Neighborhood students would also participate in the engineering theme. •  McClintock STEAM: McClintock Middle School in southeast Charlotte would add a science, technology, engineering, arts and math magnet, starting with sixth-graders in August. •  Coulwood STEAM: Coulwood Middle School in northwest Charlotte would add a STEAM magnet, starting with 150 sixth-graders in August. •  Long Creek Montessori: A pre-K-6 Montessori magnet would open for about 320 students in the old building of Long Creek Elementary in Huntersville, starting with pre-K-3 in August. The current Long Creek building will continue to serve neighborhood students. Other options •  Olympic AME: Olympic High in southwest Charlotte, already divided into five small schools, would merge two of them and add a new school of advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurship, open to students in the Olympic attendance zone. •  Hawthorne Medical Science Academy: A new high school focusing on medical sciences would open temporarily in Derita school in August with about 250 students, moving to the renovated Hawthorne school in east Charlotte in 2015-16. Students must apply for admission, but selection will not be done through the magnet lottery. •  Mountain Island K-8: Mountain Island Elementary in northwest Charlotte would add grades 6-8, starting with about 250 sixth-graders in August. The neighborhood school will have a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

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 that’s something we’ve 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 Morrison’s 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 Wednesday’s 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.

“It’s something a few of us have kicked around,” said vice chair Tim Morgan. “We’re probably close to being in a position to look at that.”

The 2014-15 plans haven’t stirred up much controversy. CMS leaders have held meetings around the county to talk about the plans, with a final public hearing scheduled before Wednesday’s 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 didn’t 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.

Cochrane’s “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 weren’t well prepared for that.

For the coming year, Morrison plans to phase out Cochrane’s neighborhood high school, replacing it with a new iMeck Academy high school magnet. Modeled on Miami-Dade’s 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 Miami’s 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.

Wednesday’s agenda includes a $150,000 grant request to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges to support the creation of Cochrane’s 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.

704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms

The Lake Wylie Pilot is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service