Superintendent
A Note from Superintendent Winston
August 28, 2020

Challenges, opportunity and unity

An open letter to the community


We have now completed almost two full weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic continues and thus we started this year with remote instruction for all students. These first several days have brought expected and unexpected challenges for our families, students and staff. I’d like to offer my view of where we are and where we will go from here.

Let me begin by saying that our CMS staff members are rising to the challenge of remote instruction, despite some technological difficulties not of the district’s making and the substantial hurdles of doing familiar work with unfamiliar tools. After working all summer to create an online environment where students can learn and grow, our teachers and administrators came to work last week to get started – and start they did. Teaching and learning have begun and will continue. Technology challenges notwithstanding, feedback we have heard from teachers, students, and families has been overwhelmingly positive – especially in terms of the quality of coursework and student/teacher engagement.

However, we are not where we want to be. We all want our students back in our school buildings, our teachers in classrooms, our buses running, our cafeterias open for meals and our sports teams practicing and preparing to win championships. The reality is this: there is no simple solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus will be here for a while. To serve our children means we must find our way through it, because there is no going around it.

Finding our way through it starts with acknowledging some unwelcome and harsh truths. The first of those is that COVID-19 has both exposed and widened the gaps in our community between the haves and the have-nots. Those gaps were significant a year ago. Now, with many parents not able to work in restaurants, hotels and other hands-on service industries, those gaps have become crevasses. Families that had trouble finding affordable housing find it even more difficult now. Families that lived in food deserts now have a harder time getting healthy, nourishing groceries. Families that lacked digital access understand that without it, their children can’t go to school remotely. We are investing resources to bridge this gap, but this community need must be met with unified community efforts.

Put another way, all of the community inequities – the gaps and tears and holes in the social support structure that put our metro area at the bottom of 50 U.S. cities in terms of economic mobility – are still there. Now they’re even bigger and more punishing than before. While some progress has been made, affordable housing, government support, accessible health care and full digital access remain significant needs since the Opportunity Task Force released its report in 2017. COVID-19 has made these unmet needs even more crippling than they were three years ago.

Those are some significant challenges we face. What are our opportunities? I believe there are many and that we must take on the hard work to make the most of them. We are fortunate to have some federal support with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which has provided our district with $33.6 million. We are allowed to use that money to coordinate with other governmental organizations in fighting COVID-19. Other allowable areas where we are allocating this money include giving schools resources, such as ways to address the unique needs of special student populations; developing ways to improve district readiness and response to COVID-19, including purchasing sanitation supplies, providing meals to students in need, and distributing digital technology tools. We are putting this money to work in ways we believe will maximize our students’ and schools’ opportunities.

The most important opportunity is the chance to renew the community’s commitment to solving the community-based social problems so clearly identified in the Opportunity Task Force report three years ago – and to take action. Just as schools have had to rethink the way we are educating students during the pandemic, our entire community needs to rethink how we can promote housing stability, support families in need of health care, healthy food, financial assistance and digital access.

Schools have coped with the difficulties brought about by social inequity for many years, working to level the educational playing field for students with extra money, extra programs and extra care. Going forward, we will still do these things. But COVID-19 has driven home an important point: schools can’t correct these social inequities alone. Those efforts need the support of government, the private sector and all citizens if together we’re going to create an equitable community.

The question posed by the Opportunity Task Force was essentially this: Do we have the will to create social equity? Three years on, we are moving in the right direction but not as quickly as we would like. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified disparities because the virus has so clearly affected the less fortunate members of our society much more than the rest of us.

There have been many personal leadership lessons for me since I became superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a year ago. But the greatest of these is that question on social equity. I believe we can contribute to the creation of social equity as we work to restore our community’s health – indeed, it is the only way for us to mend ourselves in the wake of COVID-19. Think about this: how much better prepared will our students be to learn and to take advantage of the opportunities schools provide, if they are relieved of some of the hurdles this pandemic has amplified?

Let us answer the call this time. Let us come together in unity to relieve the suffering and the burdens of this pandemic. Not just for some of us but for all of us. These are discomforting and troubling times. It’s tempting to try to assign blame, to point fingers and find fault. But that won’t get us through the pandemic. That won’t get students back in our schools safely. That won’t create the equity we need to rise to the unique challenges and opportunity before us.

Unity will help us answer the call. Working side by side, we can make our community stronger in the wake of COVID-19. Now is the time to help and heal one another in ways we have not found before. I know we can do this, in ways large and small. We know what the challenges are, and we agree on the need for change – now let us work together in unity to make it happen.

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P.O. Box 30035
Charlotte, NC 28230-0035
Phone: 980-343-3000
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website (www.cms.k12.nc.us) is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Any website accessibility concerns may be brought via the following, Email the Web Accessibility Team at WebAccessibility or Call: 980.343.0115. In compliance with Federal Law, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administers all education programs, employment activities and admissions without discrimination against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Inquiries regarding compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities, may be referred to the District's Title IX Coordinator at titleixcoordinator or to the Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education.