The Learning Network

National Outliers: Breaking the Link

Breaking the Link

Executive Summary

Charlotte – Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte, North Carolina
Academic Success: Ranked top 6 jurisdictions across the nation with a score of 246 math and 261 in Reading in 2019 (average is 235 and 255 respectively).

Enrolled: 147,352
Poverty 55%, low poverty 45%
African-American 37.5%
White: 27.5%
Hispanic 25%
Other: 10%

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) charged themselves with Equity and Excellence in education. The school District found the demographics moving to diversity and with an equity lawsuit finding against them, they made strategic plans that start with current data and moves them through their District goal in 2024.

The CMS Board of Education defined equity as “providing the opportunities, support, environment, high expectations, and resources that every student needs to achieve educational success, feel valued, and contribute to a thriving community.”

CMS began with an annual report regarding promising practices in the schools within their boundaries. The article, called “Breaking the Link” spotlights schools who have had remarkable success toward positive student outcomes Here are the top-noted practices that have occurred over time and have shown to be effective to equity in education among African-American, White, and Hispanic student groups.

The Key Levelers linked to outcomes:

Retention of highly effective teachers who exceed expected growth from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018.

Under the leadership of Principal Beth Thompson, Whitewater Middle School retained all of its teachers who exceeded expected growth from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018; yet teacher retention is not the end goal, per se, for the school. The principal indicated that her ultimate goals are that ALL adults are treated professionally; that administrators ensure that all adults feel respected, heard, mentored, and coached; and that conversations involve deep discussion about why they have chosen their particular careers and how the current position and their performance in that position reflects those reasons. Conversations are based on bravely engaging in a personal journey in order to bring adults’ best selves to those around them. Sometimes those conversations lead to adults choosing other professions. Sometimes those conversations lead to continued coaching and work on improving teaching. Beginning in January of each school year, Principal Thompson and leadership teams begin reflecting upon what the school has been doing and its impact and establishing the vision for the subsequent school year. For many high-performing teachers, this thoughtful progression is an incentive for staff to continue working at the school. Knowing what to expect and that the principal has a track record of delivering on her vision leads people to stay. Last year, the principal met individually with top performers to ask if they see their role staying the same or changing in the upcoming school year. Many teachers said that they wanted to stay on for the 2018-2019 school year to be part of the launches of the school’s Innovation Lab and the Environmental STEM magnet. The 2018-2019 school year was conceptualized by the principal as moving from a school turnaround mindset to a sustainability mindset. Conversations with teachers also involved some people with a track record of success taking on teaching new content areas or grade levels. For instance, one new teacher reflected on his personal growth and desired next steps after two years of incredibly high growth in his content area and grade level. He and Principal Thompson engaged in a discussion of the critical nature of 8th grade to prepare students for high school. This teacher decided to take on a role teaching 8th grade, moving from of a place of comfort, security, and assuredness to a place of risk and uncertainty. Not only did he excel in teaching the new grade level, but he also opened the door for other staff members to bravely take on the risk of trying new things, ultimately spreading their expertise and leadership to other areas.

School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports used to reduce referrals and suspensions and robust and aggressive action to absenteeism.

According to Principal James Garvin, the reduction in the percentage of students with one or more out-of- school suspensions from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 represents a culmination of efforts in multiple years to ensure that all students remain in school and receive a quality education despite behavioral challenges. These efforts are systematic and rooted in the implementation of School-wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS) and related to evidence/research-based strategies to support all students.

All students:

a. Recite the Reid Park Academy RAMS Pledge and the RAMS Creed each morning.

b. Learn what type of behavior is appropriate and are held accountable for their behavior in classrooms, hallways, restrooms, the cafeteria, on playgrounds, and on buses.

c. Have the opportunity to earn RAM Bucks, which are awarded to students individually by teachers and administrators, and Character Counts, which are awarded to an entire class for displaying RAMS positive behaviors and character traits. RAM Buck posters are displayed prominently throughout the school and indicate the current rewards available to students.

As a part of the school’s monthly Character Education Assembly and Celebration, classes that earn five or more Character Counts receive recognition and rewards. The community-building app, ClassDojo, is used in every classroom to promote, track, and share progress toward positive behavior with parents and teachers.

To manage inappropriate behaviors, disciplinary referrals and suspension data are analyzed at the beginning of, and throughout, the school year. Students who need additional support are identified, using referrals and suspension data, and assigned to appropriate support staff (e.g., social workers) to work on their skills. The progress of students who receive these supports is continuously monitored by referral and suspension data and is discussed weekly during various grade- level and departmental professional learning community (PLC) meetings. Students who need additional support receive appropriate referrals.

Reid Park has seen a substantial reduction in referrals and suspensions for students. Numerous students come to Principal Garvin’s mind when considering the impact that tools such as behavior trackers and social skills instruction have had on promoting positive behavior, which leads to academic progress.

According to Principal Brian Bambauer, a reduction in chronic absenteeism from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 for the three largest racial groups at Randolph IB can be credited in part to an extremely diligent attendance secretary and support team. The attendance secretary meets with the school’s collaborative student services team (CSST) every other week. CCST is a pre-intervention team which includes the school principal, nurse, all three counselors, and the school psychologist. The group discusses attendance issues, which the counselors then address directly with the student and/or
family. In addition, the attendance secretary sends out unexcused absence letters after a student has missed 3, 5, and 10 days of school. The attendance secretary ensures that, daily, each teacher takes attendance in PowerSchool, follows up with an email, assists substitutes with taking attendance, and monitors late buses and tardy students. The thoroughness of this team ensures completeness and accuracy and allows early intervention and support in circumstances that could interfere with students’ school attendance before too much instructional time is lost.

With college level courses offered to all, Advanced Placement offered to all students and AP teachers teach General Courses with AP flair, and graduation endorsements.

East Mecklenburg High School increased the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams and their passing rates. School leaders credit these improvements to enhanced marketing strategies during Back-to-School Curriculum Night and more thoroughly educating students and parents about the differences between AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program (DP) classes. The school held grade- level onboarding meetings for parents, and the meetings were customized to parents’ particular concerns and questions. In addition, the testing coordinator and IB coordinator visited English classes to explain the expectations of AP and IB DP exams. The school staff used AP Potential (which is based on students’ PSAT scores) as an identifier to recruit students into courses based on their demonstrated readiness. Finally, all teachers who taught AP courses in 2017-2018 had previously taught the course, so they had experience in the subject matter. Graduation Endorsements on diplomas help promote career and college readiness through technical education concentration and entry to community colleges and North Carolina University.