Neighborhood schools, year-round schools and reassignment took up a good chunk of the discussion at Monday's forum in Cary.
As noted in today's article, critics pressed the two speakers for their positions on the contentious issues in the district. They were willing to oblige, but with some trepidation.
Amy Holcombe, executive director for talent development for Guiford County Schools, told the crowd that her palms were sweating as she was about to give her "politically incorrect answer."
"You can either put your money into buses, transportation and fuel," Holcombe said. "Or you can put your money into your people. We chose to put the money into our people so our children could go to their neighborhood school."
Holcombe hailed the benefits of Mission Possible, a Guilford program in which teachers can get $15,000 a year in extra pay and bonsues to work at 30 high-poverty schools. Like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Guilford has largely gone to neighborhood schools and decided to invest more money into high-poverty schools.
Holcombe said the students at the Mission Possible schools now have higher Algebra I end-of-course test scores than district schools not in the program.
She also credited Mission Possible with reducing teacher turnover and allowing those schools to have certified teachers. Before, she said some schools didn't have any certified teachers in positions such as math and would go a whole year with subs teaching classes.
Holcombe said the program has been so successful that they've recruited teachers from Wake.
"Are you going to let us steal your teachers or are you going to start something similar to promote student success?" Holcombe said.
School board member Lori Millberg challenged Holcombe head on, saying Wake's policies have prevented schools from having poverty levels that are so high that teachers don't want to work in some schools. She said the challenge for Wake would be to find the additional money to start a similar program.
"It’s not spending the same money differently," Millberg said. "It’s spending more money.”
Holcombe also drew applause for her support of neighborhood schools.
"I believe so strongly in neighborhood schools and building up community," Holcombe said. "I'll get emotional about it. I’ve worked in schools that are so overwhelmingly affected by poverty.
If my parents couldn’t walk to school and be a part of their children’s lives it would have been a very difficult educational experience for those students. I believe the school and community must be one for children to learn to their potential.”
Similar views were echoed by the other guest speaker, Elanine McEwan, author of "Ten Traits of Highly Successful Schools."
"If you’re looking at riding on the bus, I just have a real personal preference for a kid to be in the school in the same mengiborhood where their parents can get to them quickly.” McEwan said.
After the meeting, Rosa Gill, chairwoman of the board, and board member Patti Head said Holcombe and McEwan were talking from their personal opinions and not with any research.
Head said that if people want to debate neighborhood schools then both sides should bring in their experts with research to back up their positions.
Based on the comments, I figured I'd throw in some more info on Mission Possible. Click here for a link on the district web site.
During the presentation, Holcombe said that 42 percent of the budget was from federal dollars, 42 percent from local and 16 percent from private foundations. She said they got the local dollars by reallocating money they already have.
A big question is whether they can keep up the program during this recession. Holcombe said they're applying for new federal grants to keep it running. While she expects to get the money, she said that if necesssary the school board might reallocate additional local money to make up the shortfall, such as reducing the salary supplements for some teachers to give it to other teachers. That might get opposition.