Orange County

Big changes could be coming to this popular Chapel Hill elementary school

Glenwood Elementary Mandarin-English 4th grader perform a song welcoming the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, at the Seymour Senior Center in Chapel Hill in this Feb. 3, 2014, file photo.
Glenwood Elementary Mandarin-English 4th grader perform a song welcoming the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, at the Seymour Senior Center in Chapel Hill in this Feb. 3, 2014, file photo.

Big changes could be coming to Glenwood Elementary School under a proposal to convert it into a magnet school in time for the 2019-20 school year.

The magnet conversion would mean students, both those inside the school’s attendance zone and those outside it, would have to place their name into a magnet lottery, then hope to be chosen for a seat at the school.

“It would be 100 percent magnet with a small attendance zone, but students living in the attendance zone would have first choice,” said Rydell Harrison, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) assistant superintendent for instructional services. “But, determining what that would actually look like will be some of the work that’s remaining.”

CHCCS leaders said the move to a magnet program at Glenwood would help to ease crowding at the school which is popular because of its two-track Mandarin-English Dual Language Program. With the magnet designation, enrollment would be capped. The school currently has an enrollment of 497 students, 74 over capacity.

If the conversion is approved by the CHCCS Board of Education, Glenwood would operate under a yet-to-be determined magnet theme, but keep its two-track Mandarin program, which means it would continue to offer two classes of Mandarin in each grade level.

About half of the school’s students are enrolled in the Mandarin program and the other half are on a traditional school track.

In November, the school board heard from nearly 40 parents and teachers about the benefits of the program. Some said they moved to Chapel Hill from other states because of the program. Many expressed support for the Mandarin program while expressing a desire for so-called traditional students to remain as well.

Harrison said all students would learn Mandarin under the magnet conversion. Half would enroll in the Mandarin immersion program and the remaining students taking a regular Mandarin class that would replace the French class that students on the traditional school track currently take.

Three magnet themes are under consideration for Glenwood. They include Global Studies, International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) or Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).

“We looked at some others but found that they really didn’t align with some of the core focus areas that we heard from the community, and really would not be cohesive in that they didn’t embed language study or cultural study,” Harrison toold the school board Thursday.

Harrison said the administration will spend the next six months investigating magnet themes and developing an implementation plan for the board to consider in August. Part of that preparation would include visiting magnet programs in Durham, Wake and Guilford counties.

The fact that Harrison, who is leaving to become superintendent of the Watertown Public Schools in Watertown, Connecticut, led to questions about who would lead the effort in his absence.

“I’ve been in this district long enough to know that sometimes when people leave, plans don’t happen,” said school board vice chairwoman Margaret Samuels.

CHCCS Superintendent Pam Baldwin said Harrison’s departure would not present a problem because the plan is solid and administrators already working on the project will take responsibility for seeing it through.

“We hope to create an environment at Lincoln Center that it doesn’t matter who is sitting around the table,” Baldwin said, referring to the site of the CHCCS main offices. “The plans are the plans that are great for our students, and we’re going to pick them up and run with them.”

School board member Joal Broun asked if the district had a plan to ensure that the magnet school enrollment is diverse.

“What I don’t want to see is what you see when you get to high school with the standard classes, the majority being minority and the honors classes, the majority being white,” Broun said.

Harrison noted that diversity is one of the five pillars of Magnet Schools of America (MSA), a national nonprofit that represents and serves as a resource to, magnet schools, parents, teachers, school boards, administrators, business leaders, community organizations and institutions of higher education.

“They talk specifically about creating your lottery system or your attendance zone system in a way that really promotes creating a diverse campus,” Harrison said. “We’ve also had some preliminary discussion around some creative scheduling we can do that might be even more attractive to bring in a diverse population of students.”

The other pillars include innovative curriculum and professional development, academic excellence, high quality instructional systems and family and community partnerships.

Jack Sutherland, co-chairman of the Mandarin Advisory Committee (MAC), a committee of parents of students in the Mandarin program, said he’s excited about the administration’s plan.

“I think the administration came up with the best possible plan they could have to find a solution for all of the problems, the overcrowding, the school-within-a school problem and the possible problem of displacing Glenwood students if there were another scenario they chose,” Sutherland said. “I’m thrilled. I think this is the best thing for all the people at Glenwood.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645