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School board chair: 'We haven't done enough'

Aug. 3, 2010

School board chair Eric Davis, in a fairly intense conversation with attendees at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, spoke with clarity and some passion about his views on education issues.

He offered no predictions of how the CMS board might resolve some of those issues. Generally, when he mentioned decisions already made by the board, he did not offer his own views. One exception was when, citing his family experience, he said he thought CMS had laid off too many psychologists trained to help students through emotional and other issues that are barriers to their education.

Two of his answers came out of personal conversations with front-line educators at CMS schools. Both were told to explore how teachers are connecting with students to encourage achievement.

And throughout the Aug. 3 appearance, Davis made clear that it's not that CMS is doing a bad job, but that it must do a better job.

And he encouraged all members of the public to continue to offer board members suggestions on how to improve the system.

Davis became chair of the nine-member board immediately after being installed to his first term on the board representing District 5. His newness on the board was often in evidence Tuesday, as he said he had not explored issues raised by some of his questioners.

On one of those, which had to do with whether CMS was hiring untested Teach For America recruits  rather than call back from layoffs CMS veterans who had track records of success, he promised to provide an answer by e-mail. He did so Wednesday evening. The text of that e-mail is at the bottom of this page.

As he was leaving the Forum, he said he was off to polish a draft of a statement of guiding principles for consideration at that afternoon's board meeting. During that meeting, version 11 of the document was approved, and in a ranking of priorities the board voted 6-3 to value maintenance of home-school assignments as their top priority.

Those home-school assignments, imposed by the board in 2002, led quickly to widespread racial and socioeconomic resegregation of CMS schools the subtext for much of the intensity and tension in the room at Tuesday's Forum, and the questions about CMS's inability to keep disadvantaged students in school or ensuring that they receive a quality education.

In a visit to the Forum in June 2008, CMS Supt. Peter Gorman said this in reply to a question:

"I do think that poverty, in my opinion, is the second greatest factor that impacts student achievement.

"I believe the aggregation of poverty is the first greatest, when you have groups of kids. We have seen challenges that come with that."

The board's Tuesday decisions Tuesday that give greater weight to policies that separate Charlotte-Mecklenburg into economic camps over the elimination of aggregations of poverty suggest that the community debate over the future of education in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is nowhere near being settled.



In his own words

Excerpts from Davis' opening comments and his answers to most of the questions asked from the floor:


 Opening statement


From the Q&A:


 Q1: On the relationship between search for guiding principles and the standards to be used in deciding which schools to close

 Q2: On the value and limitations of testing, and of the need to constructively assess teacher performance.

 Q3: On teacher anxiety about job security, and how state-mandated budget process exacerbates the anxiety.

 Q4: On whether the rhetorical focus on "empty classrooms" will erode support for the community's 2002 commitment to provide the additional resources that educators say they need to be successful with high-needs students.

 Q5: Have we built too many schools?

 Q6: Should CMS be deconsolidated into several school systems within Mecklenburg?

 Q7: Should the CMS board have taxing authority?

 Q8: On whether the board will reassign students to roll back the 2002 resegregation, and on whether CMS can do a better job of educating all high-needs children.

 Q9: On encouraging citizens to suggest solutions.

 Q10: On whether the board will be able to address parents' requests during recent community conversations that every school have quality instruction.

 Q11: On charging fee to students who play athletics.

 Q12: On whether quality teachers are equitably distributed throughout the system, how teachers in challenging students are compensated, and on what motivates teachers to work in challenging schools.

 Q13: On how CMS has overdone cutbacks in staff trained to assist children through emotional and family crises.

 Q14: On how one teacher is connecting with students.

 Q15: On how student achievement rose when one principal decided to re-teach her teachers how to teach.

 Q16: On whether teachers should be better trained to teach the history of African-Americans.

 Q17: On whether CMS should demand that training institutions ensure that teachers are better prepared to teach all students, not just students like themselves, and on the task ahead for CMS to recruit more teachers who can connect with students.

 Q18: On what the board did on its equity committee, and what it may do in the future.

 In the introduction at the top of this page, reference is made to comments by Supt. Peter Gorman during a June 3, 2008 Forum. Click at left to hear those comments.


On the subject of Teach for America teachers, Davis wrote in an e-mail Wednesday night:

"I wanted to get back to you on Kaye's question about whether TFA teachers get hiring priority over teachers with 1-3 years of experience.

"In the hiring of teachers to include the 141 positions opened recently, TFA teachers do not get any additional consideration.

"We fill our positions based on matching such factors as the position requirements with the candidate's license qualifications.

"While we are committed to our memorandum of understanding to hire 150 TFA teachers, that number is far less than the total number of teachers that we will hire due to retirements, voluntary departures, etc. and the opportunity to bring back teachers now that our funding is more defined. We need to recruit good teachers both from the traditional path and supplemented by TFA.

"The main difference is that TFA teachers are assigned solely to Title I or Focus schools. In that assignment, they have contributed significantly in educating children in those schools.

"I look forward to seeing you again soon."


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