by Bob Simmons, executive director
Council for Children’s Rights

It is already the middle of August. Where does the time go?

For K-12 students, August combines the exhilarating freedom of a waning summer vacation with the looming excitement of a new school year. As families gather school supplies and teachers organize classrooms for the first day of school on August 28, the administration has been busy preparing to implement Phase I of the two-phase revised student assignment policy approved by the Board of Education.

This is an exciting time for CMS as it takes initial steps toward offering new opportunities to children and families in our community by advancing the BOE’s five Guiding Principles:

  • Reduce overcrowding
  • Support the efficient use of resources (buses, buildings, etc.)
  • Reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poor and high-needs children
  • Increase access to high-quality home schools
  • Preserve and expand schools that work

Phase I assigns students to magnet programs using a priority system based on a combination of socioeconomic status indicators such as household income, parents’ education levels, siblings living in the home, home ownership, home school performance, and English speaking ability. Over the next four years, the magnet portion of the plan will feature additional changes to transportation zones and more school and program options.

In August 2018, Phase II will shift some home school boundaries, establish new and modified magnet programs, and update feeder patterns. Each stage of implementation attempts to minimize family disruptions by allowing rising students in higher grades to graduate from their current schools and keeping near-age siblings together.

Is the plan perfect? No. Is everybody happy? No. But that is the nature of coexistence in a community with competing interests, complex needs, and a focus on opportunity.

At Council for Children’s Rights, we believe the Board of Education could do more to reduce concentrations of poverty, while other advocates believe the goals outlined in the Guiding Principles might be achieved without changing the assignment policy adopted in 2010. The opportunity before us now is to embrace the compromise reached in the new plan and support efforts toward successful implementation.

CMS expects 176 schools in operation this fall, and it is estimated that the two phases of the new plan will result in 74 schools with increased socio-economic diversity, 14 schools serving students from closer proximities, 13 schools with feeder patterns that remain intact, and 35 schools with improved utilization through increased enrollment or reductions in overcrowding. In total, the changes are expected to reassign only 10% of CMS’s 147,000 students, but the potential positive impact on the education of our community’s children is immeasurable when students with different experiences come together in new, and newly renovated spaces.

The new student assignment plan is not the only opportunity before CMS this fall. School will open under the leadership of new Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, and the Board of County Commissioners authorized a $937 million school bond referendum for November’s ballot. The bonds will fund construction of ten new schools, replacement of seven older schools, renovation of 12 schools, and the addition of 4,000 seats to seven magnet schools.

While critical to implement both Phase I and Phase II of the new plan, the bond projects reach far beyond student assignment to address unmet needs of CMS as Superintendent Wilcox and the system serve our growing community. The projects will better serve all students by supporting the construction, improvement, and maintenance of infrastructure across the district: All children need safe, sound buildings, and strong instructional programming.

And while you’re voting, all six Board of Education District seats will be on the November ballot. In four Districts, the incumbent is not running, and the other two Districts are contested. There will be change. Please learn about the candidates in your District and vote for the person who is committed to creating greater opportunity for all students in CMS.

To increase equity in our public schools and to improve the educational achievement for all of our children, we must take these steps together this fall. Council for Children’s Rights stands with our Board of Education and the talented and dedicated professional educators and staff of CMS as they begin this exciting new school year. We hope that everybody in the community will join us in putting children first by pulling together to make our public schools work for every student in every school.

READ MORE HERE: CMS REDUCING CONCENTRATIONS OF POVERTY AND RACIAL ISOLATION

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