Note: The Fellowship is on hiatus for the summer. Articles previously published in Educate! are being reprinted here on an occasional basis.

  • Tackling fear and indifference

    Aug. 12, 2016

    From a commentary published in Educate! on April 22, 2005 in the days immediately following the resignation of Supt. James Pughsley.

    The community can tackle the big issues of fear and indifference – or not – as it chooses. But neither can be tackled without sacrifice. And since the discussion is about schools, that means that children must be enlisted in the effort. Privileged parents don’t seem inclined, but underprivileged parents don’t have a choice.

    How does a community learn to stop acting out of fear? How does a sprawling community like Mecklenburg draw close enough to overcome its indifference?

    Are there institutions with the universal respect to lead, to set a new expectation, to set an example for both employees and customers? Is there a company in town determined to respect the worth of every one of its employees enough to ensure that not a single employee’s child grows up in poverty?

    Can the school board act in kind and stop selling its best educations to the highest bidder? Today’s assignment plan does just that: To the family with the income to pick up stakes and buy a house in a new assignment zone, it offers the reward of a coveted, valuable asset – a guaranteed seat at a high-performing school.

    Can pastors ease off preaching about Hell in the next life for long enough to offer counsel on how to reform the hell we’ve created in this life?

    Are there individuals with such universal respect that their voices could help coalesce the community around action?

    And, if so, will they step forward?


  • What will it take?

    July 30, 2016

    Excerpt from a subsection headlined “The public interest” in a commentary headlined “Big issues calling: Schools may be about to close, but difficult challenges lie ahead needing focus, attention” first published in Educate!, June 5, 2003.

    But perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over the schools is whether adults from all walks of life will enroll their children, then provide the money, sweat and other investment that is vital to any public institution’s

    160730Brothers250January’s lottery results showed that parents are choosing to make white schools whiter and minority schools more minority. A review of the data this fall will probably also show that the district will, this fall, operate more high-poverty schools, more low-poverty schools, and fewer in the middle.

    That this sorting-out of children is bad educational policy has been proven over and over again across the country.
    Some would even call it evil. For underneath the rallying cry of choice can lurk a muffled appeal to fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the other. Fear of the unfamiliar.

    Schools that are building character and respect can be, indeed must be, places of peace, not chaos; of shared values, not factions; of high expectations, not common denominators.

    Charlotte’s challenge is to make every school a school that every parent would consider choosing.

    Some school board members now acknowledge what many parents have been saying for two years: that THEY wouldn’t send their kids to some CMS schools. If school board members saying that is not a wake-up call to the board and the larger community, what will it take?


  • Integration is ‘about reconstituting what we have, including ourselves’

    July 1, 2016

    Comments at a 2002 UNC Chapel Hill conference by john a. powell, currently a Berkeley School of Law professor, as first published in Educate!, Sept. 5, 2002:

    Produce a clearer vision of the public good that integration might bring, above and beyond the narrow gains from court-ordered desegregation, a University of Minnesota law professor advised a national conference in Chapel Hill Friday.

    john a. powell

    john a. powell

    “There’s a lot of powerful evidence that segregation hurts everybody,” said john a. powell, former national legal director of the ACLU. But there has been more outcry over college affirmative action than the erosion of desegregation of public schools.

    “Parents are ambivalent…. We don’t want integration unless it’s cost-free…. Unless we can [address that issue] we’re not going to make progress.”

    What many African Americans and others understand integration to offer is this, said powell: “You can ride an hour across town … and your kid is likely to be sent to the basement. And parents understand that the top floors for the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes are overwhelmingly white.

    “That is what we have told people desegregation is. We call it learning while black…. What’s the benefit? Why should I even accept that?”

    The courts only promised desegregation and that’s what’s been delivered, he said. And about the schools that resulted, “it doesn’t matter if they’re all black, it doesn’t matter if they’re all poor, it doesn’t matter if they’re all failing… but the legal requirement has been satisfied. Is that worth fighting for? I don’t think so.”

    Integration is not assimilation. “True integration is about transforming society,” powell said. “It is not about redistributing what we have. It’s about reconstituting what we have, including ourselves.”

    People recognize that race is not a scientific reality but a social construct. “And if race is real but socially constructed, then racial disparities must also be socially constructed. We don’t take seriously that the disparities themselves are a result of social engineering.”

    What most people think of as race, he said, is the combined effects on people of ghettos, isolated schools, limited economic opportunity and low social status. “I’m not saying if we address all [these problems] we meld into some hue where we all look alike or think alike.

    “We are all constitutionalists. We all want to have an equal voice in deciding what matters, in deciding who is on the Supreme Court, in deciding how tests are used,” the makeup of schools and the curriculum to be taught.

    Powell warned against focusing too narrowly on any one problem, whether it’s school quality, teacher training or inappropriate academic tracking. “Any of those things could be achieved and we could still have inequitable schools….

    “What we have to do is make the cost of injustice so high in this society that virtually no one can afford it. And we need to make the cost of justice so accessible that everyone can embrace it.”


  • The search for consensus in a divided community

    June 16, 2016; first published in Educate! Feb. 3, 2002

    From a report headlined “Board Retreat: 3 one-act plays; School board hears good news about goals achieved, bad news about prospects for next year’s budget – all on top of a gathering designed to ease some of its divisions”

    Then-Supt. Eric Smith

    Then-Supt. Eric Smith

    How, asked Supt. Eric Smith at one point, does a very public elected body “build public confidence” and “not look disjointed, and at odds with the superintendent and the superintendent at odds with the board?”

    Some board members complain that, as a facilitator phrased it, “Things that go wrong belong to the board. Things that go right belong to the superintendent.”

    Indeed, can a board that fairly represents real community divisions on school policy ever coalesce into effective action?

    The record of successful bond referenda, stable administrative leadership, monumentally increased budgets and the public’s embrace of the choice plan argue for an effectiveness that is the envy of many school districts nationwide.

    But even a city obsessed with its “world-classness” doesn’t really take comfort in its national reputation. So hard work was done Thursday night as board members tried to isolate how to improve the public’s confidence in their work.

    One issue discussed, but not resolved, was about limitations on debate. George Dunlap was most outspoken on the subject, saying the public understands there will be debate and disagreement, but reacts negatively based on “how we interact with one another.” It was a discussion about respect.

    John Lassiter said the issue was more about how the chair runs the meeting. That brought a reaction from Chairperson Arthur Griffin, who said he felt the heat from all members whenever he tried to curb debate. “It’s not the length” of speeches, Arthur Griffin said, “it’s how you articulate it.”

    Could members, he asked rhetorically, “smile at one another?”

    Louise Woods, who played a key mediating role as the board wrestled with student assignment, suggested that rather than trying to curb debate once it’s started, limits should be set before debate begins. “Fairness is involved,” she said.

    One of the ways in which division plays out is over the budget. Several members have objected to the tight calendar for its adoption, which means the superintendent presents a budget to the board later this month, only to have it due in a matter of days at the county manager’s office. There’s essentially no time for board members to alter it before approval, and that made some members feel it was the super-

    intendent’s budget, rather than the board’s.

    Wilhelmenia Rembert asked if it was “appropriate to have separate goals” for the board and “a school board budget that goes beyond” the superintendent’s. Given that the budget must be approved by county commissioners, “whatever we add” is perceived as “something that could be cut.”

    “That’s a critical question,” Smith said, noting that it goes to “the real foundation of governance.”

    Lassiter objected to Rembert’s idea, saying the superintendent’s budget is his best attempt to put in action the board’s goals. If the board and superintendent have different goals, he said, “that is the beginning of the end.”

    By the end of the retreat the idea of separate budgets may have been laid to rest. As Dunlap noted, if there were two budgets, the public would focus only on the cheaper one.


  • Gangs: High schools beefing up security forces to meet rising challenge

    June 11, 2016; first published in Educate!, March 3, 2006

    Supt. Jim Pughsley said CMS is adding security associates at high schools as evidence increases of gang activity.

    “Some situations we are starting to face now and it’s more and more,” Pughsley told the Education Budget Advisory Committee last week.

    Supt. James Pughsley

    Supt. James Pughsley

    “There is evidence of gangs in the schools,” he said, noting that CMS has a good working relationship with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. “We will do whatever we need to do.”

    One provision of the new federal No Child Left Behind law will label some schools “persistently dangerous” and allow students to transfer to safer schools at school system expense. “We are trying to keep our schools so they don’t achieve that particular status,” Pughsley said.

    Most of the EBAC meeting was devoted to budget operations: internal controls, accounting methods, flexibility or lack thereof as needs shift. Member Geoffrey Curme said at one point, “Each time I walk in here I pick up more information. My fear is that most folks… are clueless as to what you do.

    “Do you have a communications plan… so that people would have an understanding of what goes on in public education?”

    The school board’s liaison to the committee, Arthur Griffin, replied that CMS had enhanced its Web site and that a former communications director had a plan she was following.

    “We need to do a better job, of course. But then that costs money. Two years ago there was an outcry that we were spending too much money. They called it PR. We called it communication with the public.”



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