Updated Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, 5:43 p.m.
By DAVID BORAKS
and KAREN CIMINO WILSON
Davidson IB Middle School would close and the international baccalaureate middle-years program would move to Alexander Middle School under a plan outlined Tuesday by Charlotte Meckenburg School officials. The plan was presented at a school board work session Tuesday afternoon.
The plan puts in writing what some school officials have been talking about for weeks. The proposal is part of the school board’s “Comprehensive Review” of school operations.
The board didn’t make any final decisions on Davidson IB Middle School or other school closings and changes on Tuesday. School officials say they’ll “refine” their options in discussions with school leadership and plan additional community forums. The school board would adopt a final plan at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Some in Davidson have expressed concern over the possible closing in recent weeks. Parents and students held a rally Friday on the Village Green, with signs reading, “Don’t take the D (for Davidson) out of DIB.”
On Tuesday, Davidson Mayor John Woods said he understands the difficult decisions facing the school board.
“Of course this change, if approved, will have a huge effect in our community and possibly on the IB program. I do want to state my overall support of the School Board and the difficult decisions facing them,” he said in an email.
“Likewise, I hope the IB Middle School program will continue its excellent performance and that a move to another location will truly create an opportunity to expand this award-winning star of our educational system,” he added.
In an email to school board members earlier Tuesday, his concerns were more pointed. “DIB is surrounded by a very caring community,” Mayor Woods said, noting that relationships exist between the school and Davidson College, Town Hall, downtown merchants and nearby churches – all within walking distance. “Would moving DIB to Alexander – not surrounded by a caring community—be good for the program?”
STAFF: CLOSE BUILDING, MOVE PROGRAM
A presentation prepared for the meeting describes the move as “consolidating” Alexander and Davidson IB. It says the popular and award-winning Davidson program – along with teachers, staff and students, would “relocate” to Alexander, which is on N.C. 115 in Huntersville.
Some school board members were apprehensive about closing one of the most successful schools in the district and making it a partial magnet within another school. (Davidson IB was named a top magnet school in the nation last year.)
“I am concerned about taking a full-magnet and moving it to Alexander Middle School and making it a partial magnet,” said at-large school board member Kaye McGarry. “I’m not a fan of partial magnets. I’m not opposed to duplicating it – duplicating it by making it available to more people.”
Ms. McGarry said she also wanted answers to several questions before she would consider closing the school and moving the program to Alexander.
“Have our objectives changed only to money and efficiency, and away from educational goals?” she asked. “The decision in this case is more than just a dollars decision. This is an award-winning program. Going back to the age of the building. The building can be renovated. Davidson knows how much it will cost to do that.”
Rhonda Lennon, who represents District 1, where the school is located, said: “I have a lot of questions about this.” Among her concerns is how the change might affect the international baccalaureate program at North Mecklenburg High School.
“Where do the current North Mecklenburg IB freshmen attend middle school?” she asked. “One of the biggest things I’ve said publicly is that I want to do things that strengthen the IB program at North Meck.”
She also asked where the 2010 graduating class from Davidson IB Middle will go to high school this year. “Is it a program they’re passionate about?” she wondered. “Or is it a piece of brick and mortar they’re passionate about.”
School staff members said they believe it would be the program, more than the building.
GOAL: EXPANDING ACCESS
Among the arguments for the shift would be to expand access to the IB middle school program in north Mecklenburg. The program is limited to about 240 students right now because of the Davidson school’s small size.
But Ms. McGarry questioned whether moving the program to Alexander Middle, which also needs renovations, would truly result in an expanded IB program.
“Does the community surrounding the school influence its success,” Ms. McGarry asked. “They’ve just got a lot of support there [in Davidson] within walking distance. Moving to Alexander, would that be good for the program?”
Ms. McGarry also said the school’s small population and 98.7 percent proficiency rate means only three students did not make proficiency. Does that mean that if two students miss the mark on the next test, the school makes growth? she wondered.
“The numbers are way too small to make a determination at all,” she said. “It’s almost meaningless looking at those types of figures.”
Richard McElrath, the school board member from District 2, said the Davidson IB program is an example of something that works. “I think we have a responsibility as a school board to find out an example of what works and duplicate it.”
Mr. McElrath raised the question of whether renovating the building would help expand it to more students. The school was last renovated after a fire in 1948. Money was allocated for renovations in the 2007 school bond package, which is on hold until the bond market improves.
“I think we need to go ahead and make that program available to as many students as possible. I think we need to go ahead and make it a learning academy and send some teachers out there,” Mr. McElrath said.
ARGUMENTS FOR CLOSING
The school’s size means it’s more expensive to operate than most other CMS schools. It costs $8,565 per student annually, making it the most expensive middle-school magnet program in the district.
The move, if it is ultimately approved, would close IB school building, which is in a neighborhood near downtown Davidson. Built in 1946 it formerly housed Davidson Elementary School. Another reason cited for the closure is the building’s age and disrepair. Voters in 2007 had approved a bond issue to pay for repairs. But the school administration’s proposal also would cancel that proposed bond issue.
School member Trent Merchant said he thought the argument over Davidson IB was less about the program and more about the state of the facility.
“I have not heard that any part of the argument was that it was not the best school,” he said. “It was that it is the worst facility. … And it’s way up in (north) Mecklenburg County so it’s hard to get to for transportation.”
What happens if the board goes ahead with closing the school? In the presentation, CMS staff did not say what the school system might do with the building.
The Town of Davidson had been planning a joint project with CMS to renovate and expand the IB school building, and voters in 2007 approved both school and parks & rec bonds to help pay for it. If the school closes, it could spell an end to that plan.
Mayor Woods said the town would look for opportunities that could arise from CMS’s decision to vacate the building. “Certainly the removal of the IB school operation will create some opportunities for future adaptive uses of the property. We will continue our positive communications with CMS and explore potential options. Although the prior community center project would have to be completely re-thought, the site can continue to be a community asset and we will think creatively about such opportunities,” he said.
(Superintendent Peter Gorman was absent from Tuesday’s work session.)
LINKS AND DOCUMENTS
DOWNLOAD the presentation that CMS staff gave to the school board, which discusses schools in detail, including Davidson IB Middle School. (PDF) CLICK HERE>
Sept. 25, 2010, DavidsonNews.net, “Students, parents rally to keep Davidson IB Middle open”
Sept. 28, 2010, Charlotte Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms was blogging live from Tuesday’s work session. Read her notes here, “CMS proposes sweeping changes for magnets, neighborhood schools.”
Sept. 28, 2010, WFAE-FM, “CMS recommends closing 12 schools.”
Sept. 29, 2010, Charlotte Observer, “CMS picks 12 schools for possible closure: Sweeping plan would also change dozens of other schools, and affect thousands of students.”