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CMS Supt. Peter Gorman displays a map he carries with him showing the so-called "butterfly zone" -- schoolhouse attendance areas in the center of the county where the vast majority of children attending CMS schools live in poverty. 

June 3, 2008

Gorman tackles question after question

"He doesn't smile much," one audience member observed after Supt. Peter Gorman addressed Tuesday's Forum.

The Forum mood was unusually serious Tuesday. Some participants applauded Gorman's recent decision to reassign some principals to seven schools where student achievement lags. Others were silent. There were so many questions that some people offered to write theirs down and mail them in. And some who did so made clear they wanted the answers in writing -- "not some 'I think' answer", as one put it.

Gorman had three or more of his executive staff in the room to answer questions. The room also held two county commissioners, including their chairman, and three current or former school board  members. The Forum is led by Sarah Stevenson, who served on the school board  from 1980-88.

Among the things Gorman said:

-- The No. 2 barrier to student achievement is poverty. The No. 1 barrier to student achievement, the superintendent said, is the aggregation of poverty -- the school district assigning a large number of impoverished children to one school. In an appearance lasting more than an hour and half, Gorman offered no plans to directly address CMS's  No. 1 barrier to student achievement.

-- Because of budget shortfalls, some schools scheduled to open this August may not do so as currently planned. Gorman did not elaborate.

-- A decision later this month by county commissioners not to fund the school board's full budget request would mean, Gorman said, that some students who have participated in some academic programs this year will not have those programs next year. He did not elaborate.

-- Students who become dropouts fall in two categories and need different kinds of attention, Gorman said. A small number leave as seniors because they are missing a few credits required for graduation. The far larger number of students leave much earlier, and are already, as freshman or sophomores, so far behind they conclude they cannot catch up.

-- Gorman readily acknowledged that as superintendent he has the power to assign teachers to high-needs schools. But he said his reading of research has persuaded him that teachers will not stay long if they are assigned to new locations against their will, so they must be lured. His recent reassignment of seven standout principals to schools where achievement is lagging is part of the lure. Is the same behavior characteristic of principals? Gorman did not say. But he noted that one of the key lures for principals in the recent reassignments was that bonuses they will receive in their new assignments will count toward their retirement benefits, thus boosting their long-term remuneration.

-- He acknowledged that teachers have lost one key support -- academic coaches that were reassigned to classrooms earlier to overcome teacher shortages. Gorman said the tight budget meant the coaching program would not be reinstituted this year.

-- The Midwood High program is doing well with about 200 young people. Gorman warned that these low-performers had previously been included in test-score data for a number of high schools, including West Charlotte and West Mecklenburg. With those low-performers no longer at their home schools this spring, test scores for the home schools may get an artificial boost in test-score data to be released in late summer.

-- Talks in Washington suggest, Gorman said, that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind will be delayed until the next president is in office, and that the testing program may be redesigned to emphasize growth in academic performance, rather than reaching an arbitrary "on grade level" standard.

-- It is at middle school that CMS has its largest problems. It is at grades 6-8, Gorman said, that youth are turning away from education.

-- The names of some of the principals who will replace those who were moved recently to high-needs schools will be announced at next week's school board meeting.

-- The school board's review of magnet programs will pit dollar savings against equity issues: Reducing the number of sites for a magnet program, he said, would leave the program too far away for some students to attend. Gorman offered no predictions on how the board would decide such issues.

Gorman had been asked to open with a report on the state of high-poverty schools. He did so by reading out statistics that staff had been culled from the CMS website into a presentation file. Download that file here from the CMS website. A copy is here in the Forum archives.


More pictures from Tuesday's Forum:





Above: Gorman with Forum co-founder and former school board member Sarah Stevenson.



From left, Curtis Carroll, CMS Area Superintendent for Achievement Zone; Elva Cooper, CMS Area Superintendent for West Learning Zone;  Martil Cosper, CMS Director of Family Services; and school board Chairman Joe Whilte.





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down the hill from West Charlotte High School.