Marie G. Davis faces challenging sales job: School plans to tout faculty, extra tutorial sessions to recruit students

The blink of an eye. That’s about the time it took for Jennifer Perkins-Randolph to volunteer to become PTSA president at Marie G. Davis Middle School and for fellow parents to approve.

The group had little time to waste. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Choice Information Fair, where schools will try to recruit families under the district’s new choice-based assignment plan, is Saturday. And while videos, free cookies and flashy brochures are nice, what really draws in prospective families is enthusiastic parents and teachers touting their school.

So at this first parent meeting — held three days before the winter break — Principal Terry Cline jammed Perkins-Randolph’s nomination through without even asking anyone else to second the motion.

The full board for the Parent Teacher Student Association plans to meet again this week to talk about its goals for the year — from long-term tasks such as fund raising to the immediate need of planning for Saturday’s fair.

Marie G. Davis’ promotional task on Saturday won’t be easy.

For years, the school was a poster child for CMS middle schools, but it’s no longer the academic standout it had been. When CMS launched its new choice plan in August, the school lost its two magnet programs, which had lured many of the county’s brightest students. All the start-up distractions kept Cline — also new to the school — from launching a PTSA until now.

It is now a neighborhood school, serving primarily children from surrounding poor communities. Students didn’t exactly come running — Marie G. Davis Charlotte NC was the least-picked school in the county last year.

Will this year be any different?

"(People) are looking at it as a poor neighborhood school, because they don’t understand what is actually going on at the school," Perkins-Randolph said.

Any growth is a plus

Nearly five months into the school year, the changed Marie G. Davis school NC now has a bit of a track record.Academically, the school is slightly behind CMS averages for other middle schools based on quarterly tests, Cline said. The CMS choice brochure touts Marie G. Davis’ "unique 9th period" — which is really time set aside for extra tutorial sessions.

"This year, no matter what happens with our test data, if there’s growth, I’ll be pleased," Cline said.

Still, the school has enough students staying on the honor roll and posting good attendance that Cline is already looking toward a blowout end-of-year celebration, with certificates and trophies for students. Cline and his teachers have had other celebrations this year, including a King and Queen Pageant and a holiday dance, to build unity within the school.

On the discipline side, Cline estimates he has suspended about 100 of his 583 students, generally just for a few days, mostly for backtalking or fighting. The number has tapered off since the start of the year, but he suspects he’ll have one of the highest rates in the city by school year’s end.

Plenty of other things are coming together.

Cline said the school gets outside help from several business partnerships. And teachers have won over him and many parents.

"I would stack them up against anybody," Cline said of his staff.

Kids just need caring teacher

Veteran band teacher Yvonne Stewart — among Cline’s selling points — spent her past seven years at the school, and stayed on knowing Marie G. Davis would dramatically change this year.

For Stewart, the choice to stay wasn’t difficult. Band jobs are scarce and tough to get. She also likes her room. And she looked forward to working with students from more challenged backgrounds.

"Kids are kids. They need someone that cares about them," Stewart said.

"It’s more challenging, but less stressful. I like dealing with the small classes and with these kids."

In December she showed what her band can do — drawing out a strong holiday concert performance for the student body. The band replayed it again that evening to the standing applause of parents.

It’s an image of the school that others should see, Stewart said.

"Nobody’s making them be in the band. And they’re appreciative of everything you do."

Focusing on results

News from Marie G. Davis really make us happy. Schools will know just how popular — or unpopular — they are in February, after new families or those seeking other schools make their picks. A lottery will later determine where students will go.

If too few students choose Marie G. Davis — like last year — the district will probably try to recruit students in an effort to fill seats.

And if that doesn’t work, CMS may again place students at the school who didn’t ask to go there.

Perkins-Randolph hopes Marie G. Davis will attract students from outside its area — and thinks Principal Cline will help draw families.

She said she chose the school for her daughter, Jade — even though her home school is Kennedy Middle in southwest Mecklenburg — because Cline is focused on results. Her older daughter attended Smith Middle School when Cline was principal there.

Recruiting students wouldn’t be tough, Perkins-Randolph said, "if people really knew the leadership that was there and the staff."

"It would become a school that you would have to wait-list for."

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