N.C. Schools Official Lauds Education Proposal
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Well, we wanted to know what a school superintendent makes of that and the rest of the president's proposal, so we called Peter Gorman, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools in North Carolina. Generally, he likes what he's heard but he wants to hear more.
PETER GORMAN: So what exactly does that definition mean? That's yet to be seen. But for us, it's all about making sure students have options when they leave school. And if they're not well-educated, they don't have options.
BLOCK: When you look forward to that goal under No Child Left Behind, of all students at grade level in reading and math by 2014, how would the schools in your system there in Charlotte be doing by 2014?
GORMAN: We would find it very difficult to expect that we would have all of the students, in any school, proficient in all assessed subjects by 2014.
BLOCK: You're saying none of your schools would reach that standard.
GORMAN: If the barometer is 100 percent proficient, none of our schools are on that path.
BLOCK: When you think about the schools in your district and you think about the ones that know you are at the bottom of the heap, say in the bottom five percent, what do you think the solution is there? And it does it involve massive firings of staff?
GORMAN: Well, we have put in place a turnaround strategy. And our turnaround strategy does involve replacing staff. We replaced the principal, the assistant principal, the literacy or academic facilitator and we infused a group of new teachers into that school. Some teachers do stay at the site but we do believe in sending in turnaround teams, and that's been our strategy. We've done it 20 times so far and we have had very positive outcomes from that.
BLOCK: You know, we're talking about this overhaul of education law in the midst of what is for many districts, including your own, a financial crisis here in the process of figuring out pretty extreme budget cuts. Do you think it's possible to adjust to a new law in the midst of everything else that you have going on right there?
GORMAN: Well, we reduced our budget last year by over 90 million. We are planning right now to reduce our budget by anywhere from 68 to $80 million. Last year, our motto was: Do more with less. I don't know that I'm going to be able to say that next year, but we are going to have to make sure that we continue to move reform forward regardless of what the budget climate is.
BLOCK: You'll be talking about more crowded classrooms there, right? Fewer teachers for the same number of kids?
GORMAN: We will definitely have more crowded classrooms. We cannot do the reductions in the dollar amounts that we have to do without impacting classroom teachers. And we've got to be upfront about that with our community.
BLOCK: And do you think that's ever a recipe for improving student performance?
GORMAN: Well, I can tell you that incremental increases in class size do not automatically lower the quality of education. However, you have to be careful in looking at who are removing from those classrooms. So that's why we are trying to strategically focus on the low performers to be the individuals that we remove from the reduction in force.
BLOCK: And I guess the flip side of that is how do you retain the good teachers if their class sizes are growing, and teaching is becoming less and less pleasant?
GORMAN: We do want to have small class sizes. We find, first and foremost, if we can provide them with a great leader and the support, they're able to deal with that and handle those challenges. That's the first and foremost thing we try to do.
BLOCK: Well, Peter Gorman, thanks very much for talking with us today.
GORMAN: Thank you.
BLOCK: Peter Gorman is superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools. He spoke with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.
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