More magnet schools and tweaked population sizes proposed for Guilford County Schools

0
201
GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras addressed the joint committee last Thursday. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

In response to the recently released school facility report that found many of Guilford County schools to be unsuitable for students, members of the Guilford County School Board and Guilford County Commission put together a new plan to resize schools as well as add more magnet options.

A joint committee of members of the Guilford County School Board and Guilford County Commission met on March 14 to discuss the recently released school facility report revealing that many schools and facilities in the school system cannot provide students with adequate learning environments, and that those most negatively affected include students from marginalized communities.

The joint committee issued a recommendation to conduct another study that would check school boundaries — or population caps — as well as new specialized, choice options to remedy the problems. The joint group of close to two dozen members met at McNair Elementary, where Joe Clark — a member of MGT Consulting Group which conducted the study — summarized the report and its findings.

The yearlong study, released in January at a cost close to $900,000, scored all 126 schools in the system based on building condition, technology readiness, site condition and educational suitability — or how well suited the environment is for students to learn. Overall, the schools scored the lowest in building condition and educational assessment while scoring well on the technology readiness.

Clark’s recap however, spent a significant amount of time looking at the projected enrollment for the schools over the next decade.

“Although there isn’t a lot of growth,” Clark said. “And that’s not uncommon for large urban metropolitan districts in the country right now, you’re not losing ground.”

He pointed to a graph that showed that there were 72,118 students enrolled in Guilford County Schools during the 2008-09 school year, with a slight projected increase to 72,456 by the 2027-28 school year.

Based on the projections and the state of many of the county’s schools, MGT recommended a $1.5 billion spending budget to bring the county’s schools up to par.

After Clark finished his recap, Superintendent Sharon Contreras presented a new plan that includes a Phase II demographic study that will help “to develop a boundary optimization plan,” resizing some schools by increasing or decreasing the numbers of students, as well as adding specialized, choice options schools.

She mentioned that the new study would take a few months to complete but did not mention whether MGT would be rehired for the job.

“We cannot uncouple our building-facility strategy from our strategy of improving the academic programs and the outcomes for students,” Contreras said. “If we just build beautiful schools and not improve the outcomes for students, we’ll just have great buildings.”

She pointed to the media room in McNair Elementary where the meeting was taking place.

“We’re sitting in a really great, beautiful facility,” she said. “But the students struggle. Most of the students here are not reading at proficient levels.”

In order to help some of the worst schools in the district, Contreras and the joint committee recommended possibly closing some of the schools in the worst conditions and reopening them as new schools with either new choice options or school grade configurations.

MGT’s report recommended closing 10 schools, rebuilding 27, renovating 18 and building one elementary school. Many of the schools that recommended for repurposing — like Bessemer Elementary, Hampton Elementary, Vandalia Elementary and Wiley Elementary — are predominantly black and brown schools. Of those that had a combined score of less than 60, which placed them in the “unsatisfactory” category, 76 percent are attended by predominantly black or brown students.

“How do we make sure that we provide high-quality seats, high-performing schools, in great facilities, for every single child in Guilford County?” Contreras asked.

A document that summarizes the next phase suggested repurposing, renovating or replacing 85-90 existing neighborhood schools as well as creating 30-35 specialized, choice options from the 126 schools already in existence.

Choice options for magnet schools included categories such as performing arts, health professions, advanced manufacturing, CTE, STEM, aviation and renewable energy.

“We had about 6,000 parents come out for our choice fair,” Contreras said. “That’s a thousand more than last year…. Parents really want more choice and they really want their students at or in these CTE programs that will result in better jobs when they graduate.”

The recommendation by the joint committee to create 30-35 new specialized, or magnet programs, comes after the MGT study found that many of the existing magnet sites in the county are over or underutilized.

The study suggested balancing both overutilized, or overpopulated, and underutilized or, underpopulated, schools by either “adjusting its attendance area boundary or by increasing the facility capacity of the current program site.”

Several magnet schools also scored poorly in educational suitability according to the report.

“Low educational suitability scores mean that the school sites do not currently have the appropriate spaces, equipment, storage, and/or learning environment to implement the magnet programs assigned to those schools,” the study said.

MGT approximated the total budget to “remediate current educational suitability deficiencies” in the county’s magnet school sites as more than $16 million.

The study also recommended repurposing Hampton Elementary and replacing General Greene Elementary, Morehead Elementary and Murphey Traditional Academy, all of which are magnet schools.

In addition to agreeing on a new demographic study, both the board of education and commissioners agreed to pass a joint resolution to support the federal Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which was introduced by House Democrats in January. The act aims to address physical and digital infrastructure needs in schools across the country through a $70 billion grant program and a $30 billion tax-credit bond program targeted to the needs of schools with decades-old infrastructure issues.

The idea of unity seemed to be a running theme as several members of the school board urged cooperation from all of its members to work together to create swift change.

“We have to be accountable as a board going forward,” said school board member Khem Irby who represents District 6. “I hope we can deliver a message to the community that it’s for the safety of your child; we’re putting kids first. That children are at the center of every decision that we’re gonna make.”