Community vets potential school leaders
by Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – Days after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education revealed its final three candidates for superintendent, the public got to quiz the contenders on issues ranging from teacher morale to the overabundance of standardized testing.
Students, teachers, parents and community members from throughout Mecklenburg County gathered April 11 at Northwest School of the Arts to hear the candidates answer questions from members of a panel and the audience. Up for the job are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark, a 29-year veteran of the school system; Kriner Cash, superintendent of Memphis City Schools in Memphis, Tenn.; and Heath Morrison, superintendent of Washoe County Schools in Reno, Nev.
Many questions fired at candidates centered on school closings, an issue that drew the ire of the community in 2010 after former Superintendent Peter Gorman closed or consolidated 10 schools – including Davidson IB Middle School – due to budget concerns. Other questions addressed transparency in decision-making and Gorman’s proposed employee compensation reform plan, dubbed Pay for Performance. All of these issues have divided the school district in recent years.
“There are discordant notes that I’m hearing as a theme, coming from you at this time,” Kriner told the audience.
During the forum, Kriner expressed support for a teacher compensation reform plan that takes more into account than “seat times and degrees” and contributes to high teacher morale. Audience members also applauded Kriner when he said that with the exception of extreme situations, schools should not be closed to balance the budget.
“I don’t believe in leaving an empty building in a community,” Kriner said. “It hastens the decline of that community.”
Clark said many opportunities are closed off to students who attend the county’s poorest schools. At the Herald’s press time she leads a public online poll conducted by education advocacy group MeckEd and has garnered about 1,300 out of 1,700 votes.
She said that while the district is close to having an effective principal in every school, “we can’t say that we have an effective teacher in every classroom.”
She also touted the district’s goal to attain a 90 percent graduation rate by 2014.
Morrison advocated an education system that doesn’t try to permanently separate “chronically disruptive students” by sending them to alternative schools. He said that by tailoring public education to students’ needs through online courses, vocational programs and partnerships with colleges and universities, school districts might, like a good hospital, better serve all people.
“A great hospital doesn’t limit who comes in,” Morrison said. “We can’t just take the kids who are easy to educate.”
He also called for unqualified transparency in school board decisions, ranging from bell schedules and school calendars to testing.
“There are less than half of parents (in the school district) who believe the direction of the school district is the right one,” Morrison said.
The Board of Education, will review community input before making a final decision in early May.