School violence and discipline problems have earned Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a lot of bad ink in recent years. Has anything changed? Here's what CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman had to say about it when I interviewed him two weeks ago at the WBT radio studios.
Creative Loafing: There were more than 1,500 dispatch calls made to police between August and December 2006 for Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools and middle schools. Several guns have been found on campus. If the assaults on school personnel by students this year mirror last year's numbers, we're probably at 15 already. Yet school board members say, so far, only two students have been expelled for that period. Why aren't we disciplining these kids?
Peter Gorman: I think we are disciplining kids. We've had some situations where we have had some students come to disciplinary hearings (with school board members) where they have been overturned. We've got other cases where the student has withdrawn from school or has gone to jail. We also have cases where we'll have someone say, "but he's a good boy, he didn't know better." I don't believe that. You don't make a mistake and bring a gun or a replica-like gun, to school. We need to deal with those in a severe manner. The levels of how we'll handle it though, whether it's a second or third grader, may be different than a high school student.
Last year, the state's school report cards showed that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools averaged three long-term suspensions per 100 students and zero expulsions per 100 students. This was last year and most of this you were not in charge of. Can we expect to see more next year?
How do I approach that? Do I brag and say we'll have way more than that? But the answer is we will have more suspensions. Unfortunately we have a group of kids who make poor decisions.
Understand there's a philosophical belief that some people have. I talked with the seven police chiefs and the sheriff and their philosophy about should we expel kids was interesting. The chiefs that didn't have kids said don't expel, we don't want those kids out on the street. The chiefs that had kids said we need to expel and get those kids out of school.
In a November interview with Creative Loafing, you described a tiered system of alternative schools for violent kids and those with behavior problems to remove them from mainstream classrooms. Your 2010 plan said those schools would be up and running by January of 2007. But so far that hasn't happened.
We are looking at for the short term what can we do regarding expulsions and making sure that we clamp down. But as far as having the tiered system where we can put folks in other facilities, we just don't have the facilities. We did some looking, did some pricing out and we are not going to be ready to have that done on time.
When can we expect to see these schools up and running?
The fall of 2007. Right now we are combing the community. We are looking at everything from existing space we might have on one of our campuses to storefronts. We want to make sure that these facilities are in different geographic areas too so that they are closer to kids because some folks will choose to drop out if a discipline alternative school is too far away. I don't want those kids out on the street if possible.
You've talked about bringing talented, experienced teachers into low-performing schools to teach, but again if we had 1,500 dispatch calls made to police from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools just between August and December, and just two expulsions, how can these teachers teach in these schools?
I know the bulk of the disruptive behavior our kids engage in is not in the classroom. It's at other times when there is less supervision. Some of those could be community related things. But I'm not going to make an excuse. That carries over into a classroom. It's like when someone said to me once I don't think we should expel kids because then we've got kids who might be engaged in criminal activity part time now engaged in it full time. To which I say that's supposed to make me feel good because now that they are in school.
We are asked more and more to be parent and to be teacher and to be surrogate and it's difficult. There is a group of individuals who say this is not what I signed up to do. I just want to teach. I don't want any of the peripheral parts, and we are having to ask them to handle more of the peripheral parts.