Survey: Rift growing between urban, suburban schools
by Staff Writer
by Tori Hamby
The people have spoken and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a tall order to fill when it comes to hiring a new superintendent in March.
At its Tuesday, Jan. 10, regular meeting, the Board of Education heard the results of PROACT Search’s intensive public input process, which asked the community to identify any qualities it would like to see in the new leader of the school district.
PROACT Search solicited feedback during six community forums, including one at North Mecklenburg High School, as well as meetings with various community groups, principals, teachers, university officials and local CEOs, and an online survey created by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Urban Institute.
“What we tried to do was provide an opportunity for every avenue of involvement in the search and recruitment process to give us feedback on what traits and characteristics the next superintendent should have,” said PROACT Search CEO Gary Solomon.
Forum and survey responses revealed a bit of tension between the suburban and urban areas of the school system because both have competing needs in terms of schools, teachers and other resources, and a one-size-fits-all solution or consensus often seems impossible to reach. Because a majority of schools in the north Mecklenburg area are considered suburban schools, north Mecklenburg school board representative Rhonda Lennon said it’s important that the new leader understands the complexity that suburban schools bring to a district often described as urban.
“It’s absolutely essential,” Lennon said.
A few of the anonymous comments from the survey also expressed worry about the challenges that come with relying on neighborhood schools. These concerns came up in Cornelius in 2010, with the opening of Hough High School. Hough High took in some of the area’s wealthier students from Cornelius and Davidson, leaving, in the opinion of some parents, North Mecklenburg High at risk for failure. However, overcrowding at North Mecklenburg and Hopewell highs made the need for a new high school in the most northern part of the county impossible to ignore.
And while neither the superintendent nor the Board of Education have direct control over whether much needed schools, like the long-touted Stumptown Elementary School, get built to ease overcrowding, the new leader will need to be able to persuade the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners about the severity of such problems in Lake Norman and other parts of the county where schools and renovations are sorely needed.
Although commissioner Karen Bentley, who represents north Mecklenburg, has assured Torrence Creek Elementary parents that the board will vote on funding for the school in April, some parents have expressed reluctance to believe that will happen.
Solomon said the forum and survey responses indicate that community members recognize the important role that strong political skills play in leading the district.
“People acknowledge the political element of the superintendency and realize that it’s not just being a true educator or a true reform-minded educator or someone with just a sole focus on teaching and learning,” Solomon said. “(They realize) that the politics and the government and the different stakeholder engagement stuff that needs to happen on an ongoing basis is critically important.”
PROACT Search said it plans to use the information gleaned from the community forums and meetings to create a personality profile to aid the search, as well as an official job description. The school board plans to hire the new superintendent in March.