She taught in Charlotte for 30+ years. Now she says teachers should be re-educated on achievement gaps

Former educators also believe CMS needs to make changes to its reading curriculum.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2022 at 8:06 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Retired Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) teachers are sharing their experiences and thoughts about the achievement gap between Black and White students in CMS.

The gap in test scores has been present for years. North Carolina has given 42 CMS schools a “D” or “F” for their performance.

Mary McCray was an elementary school teacher for 34 years. She believes teachers need to be re-educated.

“We got to look at our teacher preparation programs that are in our universities,” McCray said. “A lot of our programs have been built around teaching suburban kids - not urban kids and a lot of our lower-performing schools are in our urban areas. So we got to better equip teachers to deal with the complexities that come with teaching urban elementary, middle, and high school kids.”

McCray also served eight years on the CMS school board. She believes the community needs to address the opportunity gaps students are dealing with first.

“We’re not going to close any achievement gap,” McCray said. “I don’t care how much money you throw at it - until you close and get rid of the opportunity gaps. There are so many things our children don’t have an opportunity to do or experience and that’s where the gaps are.”

Althea Wright taught for 34 years and Jennifer McDowell taught for 40 years. They were both music teachers. They believe music is important when it comes to teaching reading and math. They believe music is the answer to academics and improved behavior.

“You’ll hear teachers say - please so and so is having a bad day today,” Retired CMS teacher Althea Wright said. “They didn’t have a bad day in my class because it was music and it was something that they could express themselves.”

McDowell’s daughter is a math teacher. The former CMS educator claims her daughter’s students are excelling in Math and music might be the reason. She says her daughter’s principal paid a visit to the classroom one day.

“She gave her a thumbs up,” McDowell said. “Later that day she asked her where did you get that idea to play music while your students are on task. She said my mom was a music teacher and she used to tell teachers to play music sometimes when your kids are doing their classwork.”

These former educators believe it’s time to get back to basics. They say having a good relationship with the students’ parents is key.

“Inclusion of parents and when I say that I am meaning that you may need to have sessions with just parents,” Wright said. “To say these are the things that are going on in our schools. This is what we are doing to try to teach your children and if you can reinforce some things at home that might make a difference. Also include volunteers in the school. Some of these schools get volunteers but not enough.”

They also think a spotlight should be put on leaders of these low-performing schools.

“Your administrator makes a difference too,” Wright said. “If you have a good administrator who is really caring for the students that they have at their school, you will see a difference in the school.”

The former educators also believe CMS needs to make changes to its reading curriculum.

“We need to do an honest-to-goodness audit of our reading programs,” McCray said. “Especially in our low-performing schools. And if those programs are not working then we need to throw them out...We need to look at reading recovery and make sure that we have qualified people who are teaching reading recovery.”

All admit it is a challenge to teach these days because of the pandemic. They claim the disruption in-class time gets in the way of building a relationship with students.

“You got to learn the students,” Wright said. “You got to know what their strength is and their weakness is so that you can work with them.”

All three former educators say they would go back in the classroom if the pandemic wasn’t an issue. They want the achievement gap to close and they tell teachers never to give up on their students.

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