Dear CMS candidates: Here’s what we want from our schools

Published: Aug. 28, 2015 at 3:19 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2015 at 3:19 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Ann Doss Helms/The Charlotte Observer) - If the nine people seeking seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board had any doubts about how complex their work will be, a MeckEd forum Thursday morning surely set them straight.

About two dozen educators, parents, business leaders and advocates gave two-minute spiels about their top priorities for the district. Some were recruited by the nonprofit advocacy group and others showed up to take a turn. A conference room at the Novant Health/BB&T building in uptown Charlotte was packed with about 90 people.

"We've invited the candidates to just sit and listen. That's hard for candidates to do," said moderator Natalie English, a public policy executive for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

Concerns ran the gamut from teacher pay to challenges of high-poverty schools to suburban distrust.

All nine candidates showed up, though Angela Ambroise and Janeen Bryant, who sent young children to school, were late. As a couple of speakers noted, a forum at 8 a.m. on a weekday excludes many parents and students.

Others running are incumbents Mary McCray and Ericka Ellis-Stewart and challengers Amelia Stinson-Wesley, Jeremy Stephenson, Levester Flowers, Elyse Dashew and Larry Bumgarner.

The candidates will get a turn to talk on Oct. 22, when MeckEd hosts a follow-up forum. The nonpartisan election is Nov. 3, and the top three win four-year terms on the nine-member board.

[Read what candidates say about student assignment priorities]

Here's a sampling of what they heard.

Teacher pay

"What matters to me and my wife: First and foremost is our teachers. We need to pay these folks competitively so we can keep them in front of our children."

Chris Cope of Allen Tate Mortgage, a CMS parent and MeckEd board member.

Superintendent search

"The most important role you will have is to hire and keep an excellent superintendent. Savvy candidates are going to evaluate you as much as you evaluate them, so I encourage you to set the tone quickly."

Johanna Anderson, executive director of The Belk Foundation.

College-based high schools

"Here I am with a child who's about to graduate with an associate's degree and I haven't paid a dime. I think it's important for these opportunities to become available and for parents to become more aware."

Liza Lopes, parent of four CMS students, including a senior at Cato Middle College High School.

High-poverty schools

"We have more than 50 years of evidence that schools like mine, Bruns, do not work and cannot work. Separate is not equal. ... Injustice is not acceptable. Segregation in all forms is not OK."

Barry Sherman, school social worker at Bruns Academy, where most students are African-American and from low-income homes.

Struggling students

"I can't do it alone. It takes the educators, the parents and the community to impact struggling students."

Coretta Robinson Wilson, teacher at Alexander Graham Middle School.

"We have to create a vision that is so bright that it blinds our kids from past mistakes. We need Davids that will go to face the giants of poverty, of bad legislation, of bad policy."

Percell Gaskins, Garinger High football coach and former Carolina Panther.

Suburban distrust

"We've got some trust issues with you guys. Right or wrong, we don't trust you, and the only way to fix it is to acknowledge it and then to thoughtfully build communities of schools."

Carrie Kester, north suburban parent of three CMS students.

Diverse leadership

"We need to start by acknowledging that Charlotte is a rainbow. Charlotte is not black and white anymore, and our executive leadership does not reflect that."

Rosanna Saladin from the CMS office of community partnerships and parent engagement.

CMS image

"We have one of the best school systems in this country. We have to remain positive."

Charlotte Chamber education chair Michael Barnes, saying CMS is one of the county's top business recruiting assets, along with the airport and cost of living.