Separate and unequal: Grassroots group takes on inequity in Charlotte schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bTo hear Carol Sawyer describe it, Charlotte social worker Barry Sherman was at his wit’s end when he phoned her in June.

Sherman, who worked at the primarily low-income Bruns Academy in Charlotte, phoned Sawyer because she was already an outspoken advocate for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). With a student population of more than 140,000, CMS is second only to Wake County Schools among the largest districts in North Carolina.

Sherman complained that someone, somewhere, needed desperately to remedy the inequity in the system’s poorest schools, which have, for years, struggled with high teacher turnover, poor test scores and little public attention.

Sawyer agreed, and immediately began reaching out through social media networks for others who felt the same. “Next thing I knew, I had 20 people I didn’t know in my living room,” says Sawyer, now a member of the steering committee for the grassroots group, which calls itself OneMeck.

Today, OneMeck, is clearly gaining traction. A feature in the Jan. 2 edition of The Charlotte Observer named steering committee co-chair Justin Perry one of seven people to watch in 2016. Even before that, the group was garnering public attention, taking its pleas for help to the CMS Board of Education and penning an op-ed for the paper.

The timing is good. This year, the CMS school board plans to undertake a massive student reassignment that board members undertake every six years.

And student diversity plans have been a hot topic in recent years in North Carolina. You might recall that in 2010, a conservative tide helped dismantle a nationally-recognized, diversity program in Wake County that factored socioeconomic status into student assignment.

Student diversity should be key no matter the school system, OneMeck members say. And with educational advocates long arguing that a diverse population can lift scores for all students, not just the impoverished ones, it’s a particularly important discussion right now, says Sawyer.

“Fight the fear,” she says. “There’s tremendous distrust among parents. We have to convince people that their child will not harmed. Their kid can’t catch ‘poor.’ As a matter of fact, their child will be better prepared to be part of the global workforce.”

It’s also particularly timely because the N.C. State Board of Education is expected to hear policy recommendations in March on how to drive teacher recruitment in low-performing schools. As Sawyer noted, and staff with the N.C. Department of Instruction proved statistically last week, recruiting high-quality teachers to work in such challenging schools should be a top task for North Carolina’s education leaders.

It also comes amid controversy over a demographics report from state staff last week that indicated the state’s public charter schools are becoming increasingly less diverse.

“If you feel like you’re in a high-poverty school with a large number of kids who are impoverished or homeless or in unstable family situations, those are barriers to learning,” said Sawyer. “And all teachers want to feel successful.”

Stay tuned to this discussion.

One Comment

  1. Morning Post for January 12, 2015

    January 12, 2016 at 10:29 am

    […] • Unequal education: NC Policy Watch on a group fighting for change in Charlotte. Read more. […]

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