When Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled the long-awaited plan for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools boundary changes Tuesday, she said 21 schools would see improvements in diversity.
That’s far short of breaking up intense concentrations of poverty at roughly 75 schools. But an Observer analysis of CMS data released after the meeting shows the plan does even less: Only seven schools that currently have at least 70 percent of students rated as low socioeconomic status (known as SES) will see a significant drop in poverty levels.
Another 16 high-poverty schools are slated for changes that will not significantly reduce the economic isolation that is often referred to as resegregation. And two new schools – Renaissance West and Villa Heights Elementary – are slated to open with extremely high poverty.
The proposed changes will take effect in 2018-19 if the school board approves them May 24. There will be a public hearing May 9, and several community meetings throughout the month.
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The 21 schools CMS counts as improving diversity (see box below) include such examples as Martin Middle School, which is expected to go from 52 percent low socioeconomic status to 48 percent, and Mallard Creek High, which will go from 69 percent of its students rated as medium socioeconomic status to 65 percent at that level. It even counts Eastway Middle school as more diverse because its low socioeconomic status enrollment will drop from 94 percent to 92 percent.
Meanwhile, when the dust settles on a complex network of proposed changes, most of the district’s biggest concentrations of advantage and disadvantage – and the racial isolation that tends to accompany them – remain unchanged.
Take West Charlotte High, an icon of Charlotte’s journey from Jim Crow segregation through court-ordered desegregation into the current era of neighborhood schools and choice. This year it is 84 percent black and, under the district’s new diversity ratings, has 93 percent of its students coming from low socioeconomic neighborhoods. Under Clark’s plan, West Charlotte sees several boundary changes, picking up some West Meck students and sending parts of its current zone to Myers Park, Harding and Garinger high schools. But the low SES enrollment drops only to 89 percent.
Allenbrook Elementary, Cochrane Collegiate, Druid Hills, Eastway Middle, Garinger High, Harding High, Reid Park, Westerly Hills and Windsor Park Elementary all have low socioeconomic status enrollment of 90 percent or higher, which won’t change significantly even though they’re slated for boundary changes. Ashley Park, a preK-8 school, will actually see its low SES level rise from 89 percent to 95 percent.
The student assignment review, which has taken two years, is designed not only to deal with diversity and concentrations of poverty, but to reduce crowding, offer students neighborhood schools close to home and offer families more and better academic options.
Two years ago, proponents of school diversity started making the case that this was the time to break up the resegregation that has put Charlotte in the national spotlight. They pushed for a socioeconomic diversity plan, which CMS created, with Clark repeatedly telling community groups that “this is our moment” to push back de facto segregation.
But when CMS did a survey of parents, students and community members last year, schools close to home rated as a much higher priority than diversity across the county, including in districts with lots of high-poverty schools.
Can you force change?
The dearth of dramatic change illustrates the challenge: In an era of school choice, where families who don’t like their assigned schools can opt for CMS magnets, charter schools or private schools, there’s a limit to how much difference boundary changes can make.
“We have to make improvements on our concentrations of poverty. It’s a huge drag on our students’ education,” board member Eric Davis said this week. “And yet if we go too far in that direction we’ll exacerbate the very problem that we have, in losing the parents we need to retain. It’s a balancing challenge.”
Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart has urged her colleagues to be bolder about breaking up poverty. But when asked about a better strategy, she spoke instead about all the additional support students need from families, teachers and administrators.
“This plan right here, it moves students around but it still doesn’t address some of the underlying factors that impact our students’ success,” she said.
Some of the most dramatic change in high-poverty schools comes from a plan to pair two high-poverty, underfilled elementary schools – Billingsville and Sedgefield – with two low-poverty crowded schools, Cotswold and Dilworth. If the plan is approved, students will be part of a larger, merged elementary zone, attending one school for K-2 and another for 3-5.
The two schools with high poverty levels – 99 percent low socioeconomic status at Billingsville and 75 percent at Sedgefield – would become part of a more diverse zone where high socioeconomic status students make up the largest group and where all the children would move through the grade levels together. For neighborhoods currently assigned to Cotswold and Dilworth, concentrations of advantage would diminish in the merged schools.
Davis says even during Tuesday night’s meeting he was getting reactions from constituents, with the elementary school pairings spurring a lot of questions and concern.
Relying on magnets
Other schools that would drop from more than 70 percent low socioeconomic status to lower levels:
▪ Bruns Academy, a preK-8 school where 91 percent of students come from low SES areas, would send its middle school students to Ranson, see some elementary boundary changes and add a magnet program. In 2018-19 it’s projected to have 56 percent low SES enrollment, assuming the magnet attracts a more diverse student body.
▪ Walter G. Byers School, a K-8 school with 98 percent low SES enrollment, would lose part of its current zone to the new Villa Heights Elementary, which would open at 87 percent low SES. Byers would add a countywide health and medical careers magnet, which is projected to bring low SES enrollment down to 59 percent.
▪ Greenway Park Elementary, with 82 percent low SES enrollment, would lose a few neighborhood students and add an arts magnet, which is expected to bring low SES enrollment down to 69 percent.
▪ Sedgefield Middle would see boundary changes that would bring low SES enrollment from 77 percent to 50 percent.
▪ Winding Springs Elementary would see boundary changes that would bring low SES enrollment from 74 percent to 64 percent.
Meanwhile, a postscript to Tuesday’s report illustrated the challenge of using magnet programs to diversify high-poverty schools: Billingsville Elementary had offered a math/science magnet program for 2017-18 but got so few applicants the plan was scrapped, Clark told the board. If the merger with Cotswold goes through, both schools will offer an International Baccalaureate magnet program.
Concentrations of affluence
Meanwhile, most of the schools where most advantaged students are concentrated will see little or no change under Clark’s proposal. Only seven with at least 70 percent of students coming from high socioeconomic status areas are slated for change, and three of those – Ardrey Kell High, Beverly Woods Elementary and Selwyn Elementary – would see no significant change in that level. Community House Middle School’s high socioeconomic status level would actually rise, from 89 percent to 95 percent, after a boundary change.
Three high-advantage schools would see those levels drop: Dilworth Elementary would go from 75 percent high socioeconomic status to 66 percent after the Sedgefield merger. Hough High would go from 72 percent high socioeconomic status to 68 percent by sending some students to Hopewell, and the underfilled Torrence Creek Elementary would get students from the Blythe zones and go from 70 percent high socioeconomic status to 54 percent.
Board members say the plan could change as they hear from constituents and consider alternatives. That means schools and neighborhoods that aren’t affected by Clark’s proposal could find themselves pulled in through revisions.
Clark said she will present any proposed revisions at the May 9 meeting, which also includes a public hearing. She will do a Facebook Live discussion of proposed changes at the Governors Village schools (Morehead, Nathaniel Alexander and Martin) at 9 a.m. Monday and of the proposed elementary pairings at 10:15 a.m. Monday.
The CMS list
These are the 21 schools CMS cited as seeing improved socioeconomic diversity based on Ann Clark’s proposal. The report lists only the socioeconomic group that makes up the largest proportion at each school.
Hopewell High: Boundary change shifts medium socioeconomic enrollment from 57 percent to 48 percent.
Hough High: Boundary change shifts high socioeconomic enrollment from 72 percent to 68 percent.
Torrence Creek Elementary: Boundary change shifts high socioeconomic enrollment from 70 percent to 54 percent.
Mallard Creek High: Boundary change shifts medium socioeconomic enrollment from 69 percent to 65 percent.
Nathaniel Alexander Elementary: Boundary change and addition of a magnet program shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 64 percent to 52 percent.
Martin Middle: Boundary change and addition of a magnet program shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 52 percent to 48 percent.
Bruns Academy: Boundary change, change of grade levels and addition of a magnet program shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 91 percent to 56 percent.
Sedgefield Middle: Boundary change shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 77 percent to 50 percent.
Dilworth Elementary: Pairing with Sedgefield Elementary shifts high socioeconomic enrollment from 75 percent to 66 percent.
Sedgefield Elementary: Pairing with Dilworth Elementary shifts the majority socioeconomic group from 75 percent low to 66 percent high.
Winding Springs Elementary: Boundary change shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 74 percent to 64 percent.
Byers School: Boundary change and addition of a magnet shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 98 percent to 59 percent.
New school at Eastland Mall site: Boundaries for a partial magnet school opening in 2018 create a diverse school with 43 percent low socioeconomic status as the largest group.
Alexander Graham Middle: Boundary change shifts high socioeconomic enrollment from 66 percent to 61 percent.
Billingsville Elementary: Pairing with Cotswold and addition of a magnet program shifts the majority socioeconomic group from 99 percent low to 44 percent high.
Cotswold Elementary: Pairing with Billingsville shifts high socioeconomic enrollment from 57 percent low to 44 percent high.
Quail Hollow Middle: Boundary change and addition of a magnet program shifts the majority socioeconomic group from 51 percent low to 45 percent medium.
Eastway Middle: Boundary change shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 94 percent to 92 percent.
Wilson Middle: School that had extremely high poverty when it closed as a neighborhood school in 2011 reopens in 2018 as a partial magnet with projected 51 percent low socioeconomic enrollment.
Bruns Academy: Boundary change, grade-level change and addition of a magnet program shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 91 percent to 56 percent.
Whitewater Middle: Boundary change and addition of a magnet program shifts low socioeconomic enrollment from 60 percent to 45 percent.