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A look inside a CMS school successfully closing the achievement gap between students

A north Charlotte school is seeking solutions to bridge the gap, and it's getting national recognition.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is seeing some progress in bridging the achievement gap between its students.

Recently released test scores show Black and Hispanic students at CMS have seen some academic gains but are still falling short of where they need to be.

Some local schools are seeking solutions to bridge the gap, and it's getting them national recognition. 

Blythe Elementary is a coveted magnet program located in north Charlotte. The school earned national recognition as a certified magnet school from Magnet Schools of America this month. 

"It was a good chance for us to showcase all the great things we're doing, as well as reflect upon what we still need to get better at within our IB program," Erik Hoover, Blythe Elementary School's IB/ Magnet Coordinator, said. 

To become nationally certified the school had to show how it's promoting school diversity, closing the achievement gap, integrating a theme-based curriculum throughout the school, and encouraging parent and community involvement.

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Blythe Elementary School feels different when you step into its classroom.

"We want to promote the whole child. It's not just about academics," Hoover said. "So we do that through the learner profile, where we're talking about to students about being caring, knowledgeable communicators." 

Blythe is a CMS magnet program under its International Baccalaureate (IB). IB programs are designed to develop students' intellectual, emotional, personal, and social skills. 

At Blythe, their highest focuses are on diversity, community participation and global citizenship.

"Our students are leaving us with experiences, not just what they came with, but opportunities to grow as a global citizen," Felisa Simpson, Blythe Elementary School's principal, said. 

These qualities are the ingredients to its students seeing both higher achievement scores than many CMS schools, but also higher achievement between students of different races.

"I always joke around teachers, [we're] tricking them into learning essentially," Hoover said. "So when kids are having fun and you're sparking their curiosity and getting them interested, then they want to go do research about that. They don't feel like it's learning. And then I think that always translates into academic achievement success." 

End-of-year testing showed Black students at Blythe Elementary had higher achievement scores than the average CMS student. The gap between its Black and White students is also less than CMS schools overall.

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"One of the things with being an IB school, we're really looking into tapping into student's natural curiosities, and making that come alive in the classrooms," Simpson said. 

Blythe now becoming a nationally certified Magnet School is about more than just celebration.

"It was also a reflective process for us to take a true look at what we do, and to look for opportunities to grow and to become even better at what we do as an IB school," Simpson said. 

Blythe's has larger achievement gap differences for its Hispanic students than its Black students. They are more in line with CMS averages which show deep disparities in White students and students of color. 

Like many CMS schools after 2020, Blythe also saw a drop in its overall letter grade compared to pre-pandemic levels. It's worked to increase its performance grade score, but it's seen multiple years of academic growth. Although in 2022 it fell short of reaching expected growth. 

Through it all the expectations of high achievement continue to come from Blythe leaders. 

"Students set goals for themselves, making them a part of the process," Simpson said. "Teachers, myself, we can have high expectations, but if the students aren't invested, if they're not taking ownership, and know the amount of growth that I need to make in a given year, I think that helps us push our students forward and get the traction that we need." 

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Teaching styles and programs aren’t the only things that contribute to stronger test scores. It’s also who’s doing the teaching.

"When I came on, we had teachers who had been here 10,15, 20 plus years," Simpson said. 

Long-time staff and stable leadership at the top a strong indicators for CMS schools that see higher achievement and continued growth. 

"We're not looking for a warm body, we're looking for the right fit, the right fit for our school, our staff, but most importantly, the right fit for our scholars because they deserve it," Simpson said. 

State data showed Blythe teachers have not only one of the highest concentrations of experienced teachers but more than 95% of its teachers are considered effective or highly effective. 

"Our staff knows that one, from the top down high expectations, but not just high expectations, for some is high expectations for all," Simpson said. 

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookX and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is committed to reporting on the issues facing the communities we serve. We tell the stories of people working to solve persistent social problems. We examine how problems can be solved or addressed to improve the quality of life and make a positive difference. WCNC Charlotte is seeking solutions for you. Send your tips or questions to newstips@wcnc.com. 

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