CMS grads rate good news for district leaders

A jump in last year’s graduation rate is what’s setting the tone for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 2013-14 school year, according to Superintendent Heath Morrison.

(Above) CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison speaks at a recent meeting in Ballantyne

(Above) CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison speaks at a recent meeting in Ballantyne

Morrison recently spoke at a meeting with the Ballantyne Breakfast Club advocacy group in south Charlotte. He addressed the current state of the district after education spending cuts and adjustments were recently approved in Raleigh, also while recognizing a recent report released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction showing CMS increased its graduation rate by four percentage points. The four-year cohort CMS graduation rate now stands at 81 percent.

“That put us above the national average for graduation and right beside the state average,” Morrison said, adding 2012-13 is the fourth consecutive year of increase for the district. “But here’s what I’m not excited about. Out of 81 percent, that’s 19 percent of students that aren’t graduating.”

That’s why Morrison and the CMS Board of Education recently revamped the district’s ever-evolving strategic plan, highlighting new goals for the district to help continue the increase in students graduating while also promoting 21st century skills to prepare students for an evolving workforce.

“Today’s students not only need a high school diploma, but they need the skills to create their own jobs,” Morrison added.

Some of the highlighted goals in the recently revised strategic plan include finding partnerships with schools and recruiting great talent, which can be difficult in a state where teacher raises once again fell by the wayside and average pay falls $10,000 less than the national average, Morrison said. Other goals rally around creating cultures of safety, high engagement, customer service and performance and accountability.

But a component Morrison said is particularly exciting targets school transformation and strategic school design, a topic he’s been discussing this summer with CMS principals across the district.

“I’ve challenged our principals – we want our principals to be our lead designers. To create our new schools we’re going to build and to redesign our current schools,” Morrison said.

Realigning the use of time in the classroom, providing new resources and tools and infusing technology seamlessly into the schools all are ideas and topics that come with school transformation, Morrison said.

“For a long time, we have had a factory mentality with education,” he added. “What do hospitals and doctors do? They individualize – give a personalized plan of wellness just for you.”

With school transformation, the district hopes to streamline and encourage individualized learning, starting with a kindergarten through 12th-grade electronic portfolio for all students, a way to “tell the story of students across our school district,” Morrison added.

While graduation rates are up, Morrison said the district won’t be satisfied until every student receives a diploma and learns personalized skills needed to succeed in the workforce. As the high school diploma no longer guarantees success, he said, and there is still more work to do.

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