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Charlotte, NC

Principal argues for SES diversity
        More middle-class students would aid 'culture change,' Modest says

West Charlotte High School Principal John Modest Tuesday said if middle-class students didn't transfer out, his school would not be low-performing.

Speaking Tuesday, Jan. 23 to the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, the 30-year educator spent most of his time outlining steps he's taking to force a "culture change" at the school, the one-time flagship of the district that for several years has been low-performing against state standards.

Most of the changes Modest outlined dealt with teacher quality, parent support and student focus.

But he said having all students assigned to the school actually attend would help with the culture change he is attempting.

"What I need is some more socioeconomic diversity at West Charlotte," Modest said. "Eighty-five percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. I need some more middle-class kids. I don't care if they're black or white. That will make a difference in regard to some of the things that kids bring to school."

Modest said more than 900 students use the assignment plan to transfer out of low-performing West Charlotte.

"If I had half of that number, West Charlotte would not be low-performing. Those are the kids who are invested and engaged and have more parental support."

Modest said he has advocated putting a cap on the transfer provision. "There are conversations going on.... That would fix the problem," he said.

Under the 2002 student assignment plan as amended, students assigned to low-performing schools may transfer to other CMS high schools. Modest mentioned Myers Park, Berry Academy and Harding when referring to where students had transferred to.

In his visit Tuesday, Modest challenged the Forum to support West Charlotte in the following ways:

-- Mentor and tutor. Modest said that 67% of students at the school are reading below the ninth-grade level. "If you can't read, you can't do anything at all."

-- Incentives for reading program. The school plans a new reading program, Modest said, and he'd like to have small gifts on hand to use as rewards. "We want every kid to know the importance and the value of reading."

-- Funds to expand leadership academy. Modest said the school now runs a summer leadership program for entering ninth-graders. The school needs money to expand it to all students. "I'd like to take them out of their communities, maybe a camp experience, maybe some whitewater rafting, so we can do some team building and give them some experiential learning."

-- Funds for educational trips. "We want to broaden the horizons of kids," Modest said. "We need to expose them to things they might not necessarily be exposed to. A lot of my kids never go out of their neighborhood. They see the same-old, same-old things. We need to try to broaden their experiences."

-- Have college scholarships waiting. To give students an incentive to prepare for college, Modest said he wants an endowment that will ensure that every student who graduates with a 3.0 grade-point average will have a scholarship to attend college. He said he would work with the West Charlotte Alumni Association to make his "big dream" a reality. Students, he said, "need to have some hope. If we created this scenario... that would change a lot of mindsets, the whole psychology."



The Forum welcomes all persons to its meetings beginning at 8 a.m. most Tuesdays of the year
at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
down the hill from West Charlotte High School.