CMS superintendent talks about tackling race issues

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox is ready to tackle race issues in the school district and in the community. He believes now is the time.

"I just think that Charlotte is a city coming of age and has to have a lot of these conversations," Wilcox said. "And as a school system, I think we have to be part of it because we reflect the larger society."

Wilcox was responding to two incidents that happened at two different high schools.

One happened at Ardrey Kell High School. The entire student section at a Friday night football game were kicked out because the principal says some students were drunk, vaping, and out of control. There were no arrests in that case.

There was also a disturbance at West Mecklenburg High School where multiple fights broke out. That incident led to seven students being arrested.

Parents told WBTV they thought the different outcomes displayed different rules for different schools. They claim a disruption is a disruption and students should have been treated the same.

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"I don't necessarily know that it would have been substantially different had it been fights breaking out as opposed to the civil disorder - the alcohol and things like that - I don't know if it would have been different," Wilcox said. "But apparently that's a perception I think we have to work to change."

Charlotte's top educator thinks people need to get on the same page when it comes to addressing race issues. He says it can be beneficial and help clear up misconceptions.

"I think a lot of people jump to conclusions because at West Meck or West Charlotte the kids that are getting arrested are young African American males. The kids who were let go at Ardrey Kell were largely white kids - it's perceptions of race in this community. It's perceptions of power and who holds power," Wilcox said.

A previous CMS superintendent tried to start a conversation about race in the school system but faced resistance. Wilcox thinks there could be a healthy conversation without trouble.

"It doesn't mean we will diminish anyone's standing in the community nor does it mean that we are going to have a conversation that is out of control," Wilcox said, "but I think we have to talk about what are our perceptions of young people - what are our perception of kids of color and not just black kids or African American kids, but what about the Latino kids in this community as well."

The superintendent also thinks the talks should go beyond race.

"We have to talk about sexism as well, because we have different perceptions of what we want for young girls," the superintendent said. "When you take a look at some of our Advanced Placement classes or you look at some of the Corporate Halls here - are women represented well?"

CMS and the Charlotte community as a whole are becoming more diverse. More minority students make up CMS, and Wilcox believes the assignment on race should happen sooner rather than later.

"I think we have to address those things in the larger community so that people will look at schools not just as a microcosm of a larger society, but look at them fairly and intellectually and be honest of what they are seeing," Wilcox said.

Wilcox is a member of Charlotte's Opportunity Task Force. He hopes he can start with that group to begin a conversation he believes will make a difference.

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