Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dear CMS: Thanks for sharing. We think.

To: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials and the Board of Education

The parents of CMS students would like to express our gratitude for the candor and insight you’ve provided us this year regarding the important job you’re doing deciding the future of our schools.

We have asked for years to better understand how you arrive at these important decisions, and you’ve responded this summer and fall by communicating in detail not only your deliberations on schools and student assignment, but all the reports, calculations and steps leading to those deliberations. Thank you.

Now please, make it stop.

Last week, you released “The Case for Continuous Improvement: A Comprehensive Review of CMS,” a report that contained a list of 32 schools that could be targeted for closing, or consolidation, or maybe expansion. On Thursday, the list grew by five schools. It could get even bigger. Or smaller. You aren’t sure.

The report was released at the latest in a series of public meetings at which the school board has developed “guiding principles” for student assignment, then discussed those principles, then revised them and discussed them again, just so we could know exactly what you were thinking.

We appreciate that. We asked for it. But, well, you know how you go to a party and ask someone how work is going, and he tells you he’s glad you asked because it’s not going well and his boss never listens to him and he might be thinking about getting a new job but he’s worried about a gap in health insurance coverage because he really needs to get rid of this cyst right here?

What we’re trying to say is: CMS has a bad case of TMI.

That’s “Too Much Information,” and it seems as if you agree. At that Tuesday session, board member Trent Merchant said fretfully of the list of 32: “We need to do a lot of homework before we throw it out for public discussion.” In an e-mail to staffers, superintendent Peter Gorman said: “Whenever lists are made, anxieties rise.”

He was right. Parents at schools on the list freaked out. Because while transparency is a fine goal, transparency without enough context can scare people.

Now, we all know there’s a crisis of confidence in CMS. The public sees it as an unresponsive, unpredictable monolith, and parents are tired of being unsure which school their children will be in next year, in three years, in 10. It’s why the board wisely has stressed stability this year – not only as its top “guiding principle,” but right down to the civil tone in which board members disagree.

That new tone is very intentional. A flammable debate gives the impression of uncertainty – that whoever shouts loudest wins the next battle. A civil, informed discussion has the best chance of bringing everyone together.

And boy, are we getting informed.

Really, we appreciate it. We had no idea until reading “The Case for Continuing Improvement” this week that there were statistics called FCI (Facility Condition Index) and PCI (Performance Cost Indicator). But, well, you know how sometimes you have a high schooler who is buried in math homework, and you lean over to help but see words like “theoretical and real standard deviation,” so you decide instead to say, “hang in there”?

Hang in there.

Let us know when you have something a little firmer to share.

And if it involves messing with our school? Then you’ll have some explaining to do.


27 comments:

Anonymous said...

In today's world everyone has the right to share their hot air or bad gas.

Anonymous said...

It's not too much sharing, alas, it's too little, too late. The "list" is published and in little more than a month (October 26) it will be voted on and almost certainly approved.

The crisis comes from a school system that seems more like some crazy and immature Ed Department's experimental lab, than a place to educate children.

The inclusion of the Small Schools at Olympic on the List, which are both some of the most successful schools in terms of achievement and cost-effectiveness, just shows how out of touch they are. What sort of system tells parents on the West Side, who for the first time in a generation have a high school to be proud of, that not only do they want to 'change' it, but they want to send kids currently finding success there, to the failures of Harding and Waddell.

pstonge said...

Thanks, Anon. Your comment touches on exactly my point. Because the list doesn't come with enough context - or because it is too preliminary - people like you are left fearing the worst for your school.

wiley said...

Pete, I guess you didn't like my comments regarding CMS.

Truth hurts.

pstonge said...

Wiley,

I haven't deleted or turned away any comments. Please try again.

Peter

Anonymous said...

"to the failures of Harding"

Unfortunate that Harding is seen as a failure. Great kids, like my kid, go there. It started out well, but the principal ran it down!

Hey, talk about your own school!

Anonymous said...

Pete, are you taking over for Ann now?

pstonge said...

Anon, 12:07: Ann will be back soon to continue her work on the schools beat and her terrific blog.

Peter

wiley said...

Pete, I posted the first comment, got a Thank You and said it would be posted pending the author's review, or whatever that standard response says.

pstonge said...

Wiley,

Try again. I didn't see anything from you and haven't turned away comments. Thanks.

Peter

Anonymous said...

I've contacted numerous CMS school board members over the last few days. I'll give Trent and Coach Joe a "thank you" for their timely replies. It's nice to know they don't have a clue what is going on either with all the information thats been shared.

I've lived in two different apartment communities and two different single family homes over the last 10 years almost within site of Ballantyne Elementary. The school is not a Title I option school. Almost 75% of the school boundary is engulfed by two neighborhoods - Ballantyne Country Club and Providence Point. The only new construction are some condos being built next to Providence Point. There is some land around the school that is earmarked for single family homes (another CMS story in itself).

My question to the board members was where is all the future growth coming from for Ballantyne Elementary? The Country Club and Providence Pointe are built-out. Other elementary schools are well over 100% capacity and Ballantyne is at 92%.

Coach Joe replied that we should be enjoying life and not stressing - for now. Trent replied he'd be interested in finding out where all the growth is coming from over the next few weeks during their workshops.

My daughter is in fourth grade and in her third different elementary school. It's hard Coach Joe to enjoy life thinking we could be facing a fourth elementary school.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what everyone else is thinking. Stop with the "well, maybe this..." and "maybe that..." Give us something CONCRETE and we all know CMS is not capable of that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

CMS has to keep up with the times. You live in the age of instant communication glut. Feds are spying on everything.


You cant fart today without the world knowing about it 24/7/365. Thank you George Carlin. Be glad you are dead. You are being programmed exactly how to think, talk, act. Nothing escapes Big Brother.

BIG BROTHER has arrived. Orwells "1984" published in 1949 is here at last. The only problem is Mr. Eric Arthur Blair aka "George Orwell" just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Its a million times worse than even he imagined.

CMS is only following orders from above.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the public is not happy with CMS no matter what they do. That is very sad since many others look at our system as one of the top!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lord,
May my child get into the college of his choice next year so we can put 13 years of CMS behind us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lord,
Let my child get into the college of their choice

Larry said...

A comet is coming that is going to destroy the Earth in a year.

Do you tell the people or do you just wait until the event happens.

It all depends on how well you trust human nature.

I for one think that for too long we have treated human like children.

We need to start giving people the raw truth and telling them to start working on the problems and coming up with the solutions as we use to in the past.

Perhaps the best we can do will be cybernetics and storage of human DNA in space but at least we will have some hope better than just setting and waiting for a year.

So keep the glass clear and clear CMS we need transparency. For too long we have lived in a nice little bubble of complacency.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in CMS, I can agree with the idea that information should not be shared until it's clear, both for parents and for staff. My colleagues and I are constantly unsure of policy changes. Nobody seems to really understand the new Teacher Evaluation that is being put into place. People who have always been considered to be excellent teachers in CMS are suddenly being told they are ineffective and have to trust administrators because there is not paperwork that can actually be viewed by teachers regarding this. Where is the documentation? People are being threatened with losing their jobs, and honestly don't understand why. This system is getting to the point where it is too big to be effective. People in leadership positions are panicking and not giving anything a chance to work. Policies or programs are adopted as a quick fix and if they don't work within a year or two, they are cut for something else to be tried. CMS has become as transparent as a swamp. I'm probably headed to Union, Gaston, or Cabarrus County...

Anonymous said...

The whole problem starts when schools stop being places where kids are educated and become places where kids are "socialized".

Remove the social programming aspect of schools and get on with the education.

For the children of those who don't quite "get it", there will always be prisons and reform schools.

If not, build them.

Then there would be a lot less for people to complain about.

And maybe they'd just complain when their kid isn't learning.

Because that's all that would be expected from the schools.

Anonymous said...

September 12, 2010 12:44 PM
Larry said...
A comet is coming that is going to destroy the Earth in a year.


Those comet guys are dead from drinking hemlock out in San Diego and it didnt hit earth. They were gonna ride it out into the galaxy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Peter for writing this article. It needed to be said. I pray the parents of these 37 schools stand up as well as the community to fight this monster. I am tired of CMS jerking my child around.Why build new schools only to close them.Now I understand why CMS has such a big budget to cut.They wanted Magnet schools. They got them. Now it is not good enough. The neighborhood students opt to go to them making the home school left with empty classroom seats. Shut the home school down is their solution. Give these schools a chance. Give them good solid support to help these children. When things are going good at one of these schools Mr. Gorman moves the Principal to another school not giving the matter a chance to really work. Parents go out and rally to stop this madness.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!

Peter you got it all ass-backwards. Pete Gorman has a very clear view of his priorities. Top of the list: move the graduation rate from 66% to 90% by 2014. Doing this requires a dynamic plan (TMI). Not the same old static crap (after the fact releases) of years past.

It is the public's belief that once a plan is in place that that is it; that forces CMS to be more "informative". What you call TMI are the reminders that while the graduation goal remains the same the methods are changing – daily.

The other benefit of TMI is that board members go into session with some meaningful input from the public. At least one former board member who wore a big flower could have used this kind of help.

pstonge said...

Thanks, Anon 6:48, for the thoughtful post. But why are absolutes the only option? I agree that you don't want press releases after the fact, but with the info being delivered this summer on school assignment and potential consolidation, a little more firmness in the plans and ideas before public release would save a lot of anxiety. I appreciate the thought behind transparency, but it needs to be done thoughtfully.

Thanks,

Peter

Anonymous said...

From Anon 6:48

CMS IS CHANGING EVERY DAY. Sometimes there are clues from the most unusual places as to why. Recently the Observer reported the Superintendent received and turned down an offer to apply for the Las Vegas job. He made an additional strong comment about his attachment to this community.

Where Gorman was once the lone wolf he now has two men, Davis and Tate that he can openly share with. This real connection to the city may be leading those three men to feel some trust in involving parents as never before. If this is true, and I believe it is, there will be a learning curve but followed by a better ending than most of us can imagine.

So while comments posted to this blog and comments to news stories are honest reader reactions, they are steeped in the past. It's not a new day yet but it is a better way in the making.

This isn't idealism. Stuff has got to change and it is.

Anonymous said...

The CMS PR campaign continues... Does anyone really believe that they are thoughtfully considering all the parental input from over the summer? I guess I'm cynical from all my past dealings with CMS, but this is a PR campaign. They can come back and say "We listened to the parents and considered all the input". Bologna! I have dealt with the higher ups of CMS and sadly they don't no what they are doing and are making it up as they go along!

Anonymous said...

Board members need to have a backbone and decide it's time to re-draw boundary lines once again. Charlotte has changed so much since boundary lines were drawn. You can't tell me that a neighborhood near Providence and Hwy. 51 is REALLY in the Myers Park "neighborhood"?? Who are we kidding? As usual, AG and Myers Park are untouchable...........I don't have enough money to voice my opinion.

pstonge said...

Anon, 6:48/1:52:

I agree with you. I've been encouraged with the board and the tone it's set this year. I think the board's leadership is strong. I, too, am hopeful.

Peter