New CMS board divided as district moves forward
by Staff Writer
The election of two new board members and District 6 representative Tim Morgan’s move to an at-large seat brings big changes to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education facing major decisions.
Incoming at-large representatives
Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray finished first and second in the 14-candidate school board election on Nov. 8, bringing two new faces onto a board that has passed controversial initiatives – including school closures and steps toward a pay-for-performance plan for teachers – by a narrow 5-4 margin.
Ellis-Stewart emerged on the political scene as an outspoken critic of school closures approved by the board in November 2010. Ellis-Stewart has led a number of local nonprofit organizations and held leadership positions within the parent organizations at four of the district’s schools.
McCray, a retired teacher, is a former president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators. McCray spoke out against the pay-for-performance initiative introduced by former Superintendent Peter Gorman.
The new board members will be sworn in at the Dec. 13 meeting. They’ll soon tackle major issues, such as selecting a replacement for Gorman and planning the budget for the 2012-13 school year.
The outgoing board often found itself divided 5-4 when voting on controversial proposals, such as November’s school closings, with Morgan, Eric Davis, Rhonda Lennon, Trent Merchant and “Coach” Joe White often supporting Gorman’s proposals and Richard McElrath, Kaye McGarry, Tom Tate and Joyce Waddell opposed. Merchant, White and McGarry are leaving the board.
Although school board elections are nonpartisan, the new board, with the District 6 seat vacant, consists of five Democrats, two Republicans – Morgan and Lennon – and Davis, who is unaffiliated. The new board will be responsible for selecting a new representative from District 6, which includes south Charlotte and other areas.
The changes to the board’s makeup will force the members to form new coalitions, and the new majority that emerges will have the power to change the direction of the district.
The new board will immediately begin work toward hiring a new superintendent for the district, a position that Chief Operating Officer Hugh Hattabaugh has filled on an interim basis since Gorman’s departure. Morgan has said he hopes to find a leader who will continue Gorman’s reforms, citing the academic gains and narrowing of the achievement gap reported by the district over the past five years.
“I want a superintendent who is committed to building on our academic success, is results-oriented and has the ability to build a strong team while, at the same time, being comfortable delegating responsibilities and communicating our plans with our teachers and the general public,” Morgan said last month.
Morgan supports programs introduced by Gorman, including weighted-student staffing, which allocates more teachers to schools with more disadvantaged students; strategic staffing, which assigns top principals to struggling schools; and a new teacher compensation plan, which would measure teacher effectiveness through students’ performance on standardized tests and offer higher pay to top performers.
Morgan and Ellis-Stewart support exploring options for managed competition, allowing the district to save money by outsourcing services, while McCray is opposed to the privatization of services like child nutrition or after-school programs.
Ellis-Stewart hopes to find a district leader who considers “increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap” top priorities.
”Our next superintendent must show tangible prior results in educating children at all levels, be able to build a consensus among teachers and garner their respect in the wake of lowered morale and the pay-for-performance controversy,” said Ellis-Stewart, who advocates offering more professional development opportunities to teachers to improve instruction.
Ellis-Stewart hopes to build a cooperative relationship among all current and incoming board members. “Ongoing communication, open dialogue, probing questions, analysis of data, exploration of best practices and getting to know my fellow board members will be key,” Ellis-Stewart said.
McCray has spoken out against policies like pay for performance and what she calls “excessive standardized testing,” as well as the decline in teacher morale.
“I want to help mend the fences that have been broken in our community, to restore trust and integrity where it’s needed…” McCray said. “As the former president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, I’ve investigated the erosion of trust and extinction of teacher and staff morale within” the district.
McCray hopes to find a superintendent with “extensive educational experience in and knowledge about schools in a mixed urban and suburban setting,” as well as business and leadership skills, who can work cooperatively with the board and the community.
”I want to help the Board of Education as well as the interim and future superintendent understand that our students, parents, teachers, staff and community deserve to be treated with respect and sincerity when decisions are made that affect their well-being,” McCray said. “The future of my family and every other family is invested in what happens as (the district) moves forward without Dr. Gorman.”