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Five answers as CMS ends another year

Last August, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools started the academic year, I wrote a story for EdNC offering five questions that would be on my mind as I watched the district move through the year.

Now that final bells have rung and exams are finished and graduates have diplomas in hand, it’s time to revisit those questions—and offer some answers with nine months of perspective. Interestingly, many of these issues are unresolved, or will make an appearance next school year, too.

Will the school board hire a superintendent before final exams?


The school board moved slowly in its deliberations about hiring a long-term replacement for Ann Clark, whose contract was set to expire this month and who was planning to retire. I reported frequently throughout the school year about questions about the superintendent search, including the possibility that Clark could stay on for another year.

Ultimately, that’s what the school board decided to do. Members believed they needed to focus on their student assignment review now, and that they could hire a new superintendent in 2017. They extended Clark’s contract through June of next year, and have hired a search firm to identify and recruit top candidates. It seems this issue will dominate next school year.

How will the community respond to CMS’ student assignment review?


There were meetings and rallies and protests. Parents made signs and turned out in droves to pepper school board members with questions about plans to use student assignment to address issues of equality and academic achievement. The process is still ongoing, but I think most observers were surprised at the level of engagement, particularly by suburban parents who support neighborhood schools.

Last summer I wrote, “I’m also interested to see how social media plays a role in student assignment. The ways in which parents, community advocates, and the school district are able to connect and share messages are far different this year than they’ve ever been. Will that make it easier for CMS to communicate its vision for school boundary lines? Or will it create more noise that is potentially toxic?”

Social media played an enormous role in fueling the debate, including some misinformation and vitriol. I watched with interest one day as leaders of parent groups on opposite sides of the student assignment conversation debated each other on Facebook, finally agreeing not to tag each other in future posts.

Will “Opportunity Scholarships” take hold in Charlotte?

We’ll see.

The so-called school voucher program—which provides stipends for low-income children to attend private schools—has been relatively quiet in Mecklenburg County, where charter schools are surging in popularity.

Charter school enrollment is projected to outpace CMS enrollment by a five-to-one ratio next school year, while enrollment at Charlotte-area private schools is flat or slightly declining. My sense is that these state-funded private school stipends will catch on more elsewhere in North Carolina, where there are fewer charter school options and where private schools are less expensive.

What impact will a final state budget have on CMS?

Nothing calamitous.

When I wrote the story last August, uncertainty about the final state budget had CMS officials scratching their heads about what could be coming down the pike. Of particular concern was discussion about eliminating or significantly reducing state funding for teacher assistant positions. That would have been a big deal for CMS, which relies heavily on assistants, but it didn’t come to pass.

Will there be a surprise?

Surprisingly, no.

Unlike previous school years, there was no abrupt superintendent departure, no surprise bond referendum. While there was plenty of public discourse about controversial topics, nothing came out of the blue to totally redirect our attention. Perhaps that was this year’s surprise—relative predictability.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.