The sudden departure of Heath Morrison left the community once again shaking its head about the CMS Board. The search for his permanent replacement, and further school assignment boundary changes, loom in the immediate future. It is critical that Board members understand the role of the Board, the General Counsel, and the Superintendent, under policies and applicable Statutes. Jeremy’s professional legal training and real experience in corporate governance, appropriate use of outside legal counsel, and confidentiality and conflicts of interest, are sorely needed on the CMS BoE.
CMS attention and messaging tightly focuses first on current K-12 parents, second to teachers. Needs, including teacher salaries, and school construction, are vast, unlikely adequately met by the County, by Raleigh, or by Washington. CMS must better connect with the business community, and those in our community without current K-12 children, both to trumpet successes, and make aware of the pressing needs. Broadening the tent is a recurring theme.
As an At-Large School Board member, you will represent the entire County, not just a single district. Will you credibly work with diverse groups who may seek seemingly divergent objectives? How?
I am keenly aware the At-Large School Board position represents the entire County. I am also aware that some people feel they have been excluded from important conversations, which is bad substantively and for appearances. I will work hard, as I have been, to seek out every voice on education in our community before making any policy decision, especially those of current K-12 parents, and foster inclusive dialog among all interested parties.
Personally, I am a product of large and diverse public schools, and the values as an Eagle Scout are still who I am. I am not fully bilingual, but conversant, and am the only candidate to put a campaign website into Spanish. I have been reaching across aisles my entire life.
Professionally as a labor and employment attorney, and past president of the almost 500 member Charlotte Area Society for Human Resource Management, I author diversity and inclusion policies for a living. My colleague human resource professionals are on the cutting edge of employee engagement and retention strategies and tactics, which translate well to expansive constituent engagement.
In eight years volunteering as a pro bono attorney with the Council for Children’s Rights, I work with families all across Mecklenburg County who often look and speak very differently than I do. As a trial lawyer, my jury trials require a similar sill set. Effective personal communication across cultures is a critical skill. I am comfortable explaining complex subjects in terms that real people can understand.
In eight months running for School Board, I have made intentional effort to proactively seek out any and all voices speaking on education issues. I am a regular attendee of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, attended events of ONE Meck and MeckMin, and spoken at length with folks from OneCharlotte, all of whom seek “educational equity”. I have spent hours touring Bruns Academy in Project LIFT on the West side, taught a class at Merry Oaks Elementary, and toured Idlewild Elementary on the East side. I have spent even more time at Olympic High School, and meetings of Alignment Southwest Charlotte, spreading word of their great, even visionary, works.
I have also spent considerable time in Cornelius, Huntersville, and Matthews, and in South Charlotte, listening to their perspectives also, and talking with the business community about what they need out of CMS schools to provide the workforce of the future to fill the high quality jobs in our local economy. I have met with Charter parents and the Board Chair of KIPP Charlotte, and met with many current and former teachers about what they see, and need, in the classroom.
As I have pledged to OneCharlotte, and everyone I have met, if elected I will continue to proactively seek out all viewpoints on every education issue. On most issues, I believe current K-12 parents are the most important perspective, and will engage in robust parent surveying before making any major policy decision. I will always be accessible and responsive to anyone seeking my ear. Simply put, I will return all emails and phone calls promptly and with substance, as my clients for 16 years practicing law can attest.
There has never been, and will never be, anybody with whom I will refuse to meet. As many have seen and commented on the campaign trail, I can, and will, work very, very hard to do this the right way.
There is a reason 29 current and former elected officials from all across Mecklenburg County at all levels of government have endorsed my candidacy; because they agree that I am the best qualified and the only candidate they believe can properly represent the entire Mecklenburg County. With such endorsements comes great responsibility to live up to that trust.
Please vote for me for Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education – At Large, in early voting and on November 3, 2015. I will work hard to live up to your high expectations. Nobody will work harder.
Over fifty percent of CMS students are eligible for food assistance, over 70,000 students. On my side of the County, generational poverty is rarely seen or even discussed, and it is said that some “merely want to throw money at the problem.” Generational poverty in our schools is an issue for our entire community, and real change will need more than “throwing money”; it will take experts, mentors, volunteers, tutors, corporate leaders, faith groups, everyone, coming to the table for a candid conversation about what works and how it can be implemented.
You were criticized for using the word “busing”, or being against student assignment based upon “diversity”. Please explain.
In 1970, after deeming racial desegregation moving too slowly after Brown v. Board of Education, the Courts ordered Charlotte to implement a transportation to fully integrate schools. In 1999, another Court ordered that to stop after parents sued. In 2010, CMS adopted a student assignment plan based first on a student’s home address.
Now, some groups are calling for CMS to redo its student assignment plan to place a greater weight upon “diversity”, primarily household income. Some who grew up in Charlotte in the era of busing remember it fondly and suggest a return to such student assignment model. Some ascribe overtly racist motives in anyone who resists such a student assignment plan.
I think this is a bad idea for several reasons.
First, we are fundamentally not the same town we were back then. In 1990, Mecklenburg County had 500,000 residents, and we just passed 1 million. Huntersville went from 1,500 residents to now almost 55,000. The practical ability to transport students across the county is less feasible than ever. We can less than ever easily define “diversity”, as CMS went from 10,000 Hispanic students in 2005 to 30,000 in 2015, a 300% increase that is not slowing.
Second, CMS student performance is markedly up. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, near 90%. Performance by students of color and in poverty are up even faster, and the “achievement gap” is at an all-time low. In 2009 we had 5 high schools with graduation rates below 60%, some lower than 50%; now we have none close to that range. East Mecklenburg in 2009 had a graduation rate of 73%, and in 2015 went over 90%. Olympic High School in 2005 had composite EOG scores of 53%, and in 2014-15 approached 90%. Olympic is a Title One neighborhood school, not a magnet school.
Third, the same parents who successfully sued to stop busing in 1999 likely would sue again. As a trial attorney professionally, I am very cautious entering a plan that is certain to result in litigation. Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and very difficult to predict an outcome.
Fourth, I am deeply committed to bringing excellent education to every child, and worry how this would work. For example, taking 40% of kids out of a Project Lift elementary school like Bruns, and sending them to other schools like Selwyn Elementary or Elizabeth Lane Elementary, what happens to the 60% of kids left behind? Children in poverty experience traumas and stress outside the classroom at a higher rate, and attendance is a frequent barrier; I see those issues first hand volunteering as a pro bono attorney with the Council for Children’s Rights. How would such issues be solved by transportation to a distant school. On the other side, I see no possibility of taking 40% of kids out of Elizabeth Lane, overcrowded but at 98% EOG scores, and getting parents to willingly send their kids into Project Lift; it simply won’t happen.
Fifth, as I travel Mecklenburg County, this concern over diversity does not appear shared universally. Indeed, the most important voice in student assignment, current K-12 parents, are notably absent from the conversation dominated by “advocacy groups” significantly comprised of empty-nesters and retirees. A change of this sweeping scope must have buy-in from all corners of the County, which presently does not exist, and is highly unlikely to change. We must work for solutions that are acceptable to as many people as possible.
Students performing at 20-30% proficiency in schools of super-concentrated poverty is beyond unacceptable. We need to deploy any and all tools possible to get those kids a sound education. At the same time, we must maintain a level of stability to maintain and build upon the historical successes of recent years.