News: Charlotte Exclusives

Our Not So Secret Shame

Violence in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hard to hide

A high school teacher is hit in the mouth breaking up a fight involving a student who has already been arrested once for resisting a police officer. The incident occurs in a school where parents have been pleading for more security and, in fact, at a school where security was beefed up once already in recent months. Sounds like newsworthy event, certainly something the public should be informed about.

But not as far as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools or The Charlotte Observer are concerned. Neither entity has acknowledged the incident which resulted in the arrest of two students at Hopewell High last week, leaving it to alternative news sources and electronically enhanced word-of-mouth to get the story out. Continuing to ignore the glaring violence issue does no one any favors, least of all the teachers and students in schools like Hopewell that have chronic problems with security.

Make no mistake, incidents like the violent assault of a teacher are a primary motivation for the sudden interest in North Mecklenburg for leaving the CMS system altogether. Perhaps the Observer would not feel free to label efforts to carve a new North Meck school district “absurd” if the paper also reported the kind of incidents that get parents in that cluster so upset. It is precisely because creating a new school district is such a long shot, requiring state legislative action, that makes the effort so relevant. That otherwise engaged and thoughtful parents are willing to even consider a new district as an alternative to the status quo and then work to make it a reality speaks to the extent to which CMS has failed them and their children.

Moreover it is just not parents in one corner of county who have repeatedly tried to get their concerns about violence and behavior addressed by CMS leadership. CMS teachers have also waged a lonely battle to be rid of chronically disruptive students only to be thwarted by top CMS administrators. Or at least that is what the system’s own discipline data indicates and what teachers say when anyone bothers to ask them.

When the alt-weekly Creative Loafing did a recent cover-story asking teachers how they felt about the pet reform theory of the Observer and CMS brass — namely, that putting the best teachers into the worst schools, via incentives or force, would solve the system’s problems — the teachers went way off script. Several noted that, as veterans of low performing schools, they did not suddenly become better teachers at better schools. They also expressed widespread distrust, based on past experience, of the CMS bureaucracy. The teachers doubt that promised incentive bonus money would actually be paid to teachers or that promised resources (like security) for the low performing schools would ever materialize.

Further, a follow-up letter on the piece bravely signed by several CMS teachers called plans to force teachers into low performing schools “horrifying” and certain to result a mass teacher exodus from CMS. The teachers also laid the primary issue bare for all to see: “At what point are students and parents going to be forced to accept personal responsibility? When are school officials going to stop expecting teachers to shoulder all of the blame?”

Actually, school system officials and their allies at the Observer retain a little blame to spread over taxpayers who dare to question CMS’ constant demand for ever more money, the latest being a $2 billion price tag for badly needed new schools in the county. It is not clear where this kind of money would come, but an entirely new revenue stream, in the form of residential impact fees or a real estate transfer tax, is not a bad bet.

However, before more money even gets on the agenda the issue of more accountability and responsibility from CMS leadership must be addressed. CMS cannot continue to pretend that its classroom discipline problems are less urgent than student assignment plans or funding levels. Schools where students hit teachers are schools incapable of making use of scarce educational resources and are unsafe for kids from any neighborhood, anywhere to attend.