Open Schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Linda Bellamy oral history interview, 2005 October 25
Linda Bellamy talks about her career at Irwin Elementary and her work in developing the English as a second language (ESL) program in the school. Ms. Bellamy reflects on the challenges she faced in developing this program and in teaching ESL students without any special training in the field. Ms. Bellamy praises Irwin Elementary for its approach to education and details the many components of open education employed within the school. She speaks about the benefits of open education, and shares her opinion that the environment created by open education is more conducive to learning than the stressful environment created by high stakes testing in traditional schools. Ms. Bellamy concludes by discussing her views on various problems present in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, and suggests options for finding solutions to these problems.
Brenda Bilal oral history interview 1, 2005 January 6
In part one of this two-part interview, Brenda Bilal discusses her experience with open education in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system. Ms. Bilal describes open education as a method that gives students the opportunity to think creatively, make their own choices, and collaborate with others while following an individual educational path. She praises the open education system in Charlotte for its ability to cultivate diversity, and emphasizes the close connection between home and school life. Ms. Bilal conveys her belief that all students could benefit from an open education experience. In reflecting on college level education, Ms. Bilal discusses how learning communities in universities (programs that provide students with a community-based interdisciplinary approach to education) in many ways parallel open education. She concludes by describing the culture of mutual support, both academically and socially, that an open school education provides.
Brenda Bilal oral history interview 2, 2005 January 13
In part two of this two-part interview, Brenda Bilal continues discussing her experience with open education in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Ms. Bilal criticizes the current trend in mainstream education at the time of interview of increasing reliance on standardized testing, saying that this is stressful for students and forces teachers to teach to the test rather than structuring the curriculum to student needs. She shares her opinion that contracts, collaboration between students, and flexible projects are more effective ways to approach education. In addition to her perspective as an educator, Ms. Bilal also sees value in open education from her perspective as a parent. She describes the qualities that she believes her children gained in having an open education, including a sense of self-worth, creative thinking, empathy for others, persistence, and resourcefulness.
Daniel Ford Faris oral history interview, 2005 June 22
Teacher Daniel Ford Faris describes the open education learning environment at Piedmont Open Middle School between 1977 and 1997. He discusses his methods of teaching students and compares his teaching methods during his time at Spaugh Middle School, a traditional school, and at Piedmont. Mr. Faris describes the school's unique culture, including team teaching, methods of conducting evaluations and parent-teacher conferences, emphasis on collaboration, and administrators' solicitation of teacher input. Throughout the interview, Mr. Faris describes how he believes open education improved student behavior and learning outcomes during his time as an educator. He concludes by sharing his views about the future of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and of open education.
Sonja Gantt oral history interview, 2004 December 8
Sonja Gantt, daughter of former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, describes her experience as a student at Piedmont Open Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina in the late 1970s. She discusses the cohesion of the student body, influential teachers, extracurricular activities, and how her time at Piedmont Open prompted her career choices. In addition, Ms. Gantt explains how she helped form the cheerleading squad at Piedmont Open, and the importance of inclusive participation in the team. She describes what she values as advantages of open education, stressing the open communication between student and teacher, the emphasis on a student's strengths, and a focus on problem solving.
Pamela Grant oral history interview, 2005 May 31
Pamela M. Grant recounts her twenty-six year teaching career at Piedmont Open Middle School. Mrs. Grant became involved with the open learning movement in education during the late 1960s, and gave up a career in academia in order to teach at Piedmont Open. She explains the theoretical and philosophical foundation of open education as a teaching method, and describes the evolution of Piedmont' approach to open education. Mrs. Grant recounts how faculty experimented with everything from the structure of the school day to the physical building itself in order to find the best outcome for the students. Mrs. Grant then discusses her many teaching strategies within this atmosphere, as well as giving testament to how her teaching methods have impacted her past students.
Beverly Moore oral history interview, 2005 May 27
Beverly Moore discusses her experience with behaviorally and emotionally disturbed children, and her connection with the open school program in Charlotte. While Ms. Moore began her career in the Columbia, South Carolina school district, she eventually taught at Irwin Elementary school where she pioneered their first Behaviorally and Emotionally Disturbed (BEH) program. Ms. Moore describes the evolution of the BEH program at Irwin Elementary, and discusses some of the goals and challenges of the program. The transition of the program to Irwin Open Elementary in 1974 is seen by Ms. Moore as significant, since the philosophical underpinnings of open education helped to foster the success of the BEH program, which eventually grew to nine classrooms. Ms. Moore reflects on the characteristics of the open program at Irwin Elementary under principal Deane Crowell, and concludes by discussing the current challenges for BEH programs.
Carol Newman oral history interview 1, 2005 December 14
Carol Newman, longtime administrator with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) system discusses her involvement with the city's open school program between 1974 and the 1990s. Mrs. Newman describes her early interest in open education, which she experienced as a young teacher at The New School in New Jersey, and her move to Charlotte to become a staff development resource assistant for the open school program at West Charlotte High School. She describes open education as a national educational movement that was not always understood or properly applied at the local level, and points out that this was the case at West Charlotte where teachers had no training in open education methods when the program began. Following her support role at West Charlotte, Mrs. Newman developed and ran the Teacher Resource Center for CMS, which supplied local teachers with educational ideas and materials. Mrs. Newman also discusses the implications of open education for her two children, noting that they benefited not just from open educational methods, but also from being in racially, ethnically, and economically diverse student populations at Irwin Elementary, Piedmont Middle and West Charlotte High School.
Carol Newman oral history interview 2, 2006 February 23
In this second interview, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) administrator Carol Newman continues to discuss the successes and challenges of the city's open schools program, but also focuses on the emergence and significance of magnet schools in the district between 1990 and the early 2000s. Mrs. Newman describes what she saw as the major purposes of the magnet programs, which were introduced under the leadership of schools superintendent Dr. John Murphy as a means to support equity, diversity, and academic innovation at a time when the community was becoming highly critical of busing for integration. Mrs. Newman recounts her role as the principal grant writer for CMS, detailing the process of writing five successful federal grants to support the growing magnet school program, and discussing factors in the success or failure of particular magnet themes. She also reflects on the significant changes resulting from the Capacchione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district court case, which found the school district to be "unitary" and therefore no longer in need of court-ordered integration measures, eliminating racial balance as a factor in CMS magnet lotteries. Mrs. Newman concludes with a discussion of the major challenges facing CMS today and the personal leadership qualities she believes will be the most valuable in a new school superintendent at what she saw as a critical juncture in CMS history.
Martha O'Neill oral history interview, 2005 August 12
Martha O'Neill shares her experiences as a drama teacher at Piedmont Open Middle School in Charlotte. She describes the characteristics of open education as it was understood and practiced within the school, including a focus on the whole child, an integrated student-centered curriculum, an emphasis on group work and cooperation, an appreciation for the role of arts education, acceptance of diversity within the student body, and respect for students as individuals. During the interview Ms. O’Neill recalls many anecdotes from her time teaching at Piedmont, and praises principal Stephanie Counts for her leadership. Under Counts' direction, Piedmont became a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. While Ms. O'Neill is a strong advocate for open education, she believes that it would be impossible to implement the open philosophy in the current educational climate. Ms. O’Neill concludes with a discussion of what she sees as the biggest challenges in education at the time of interview, highlighting high stakes testing, low levels of teacher compensation, and the lack of prestige associated with teaching.
Carolyn P. Powell oral history interview, 2004 December 2
Carolyn Powell discusses her experiences as both a teacher and administrator at Piedmont Open Middle School. Ms. Powell began her tenure at Piedmont as a teacher in 1978, and held the position of assistant principal from 1994 to 2004. Ms. Powell discusses both the rewards and challenges of being an educator. She speaks very fondly of her time at Piedmont Middle School and shares various stories, including her winning season as a basketball coach and a visit to the school from First Lady Barbara Bush. Ms. Powell discusses changes in educational philosophy and student culture during her career. She was in the process of retiring from Piedmont Middle School at the time of this interview, and she concludes by praising the staff and administrative team at Piedmont Middle School for their hard work.
Sue Spayth Riley oral history interview, 2005 September 13
Sue Spayth Riley describes her experiences as the founder and director of Charlotte's first integrated and open preschool, the Open Door School. Ms. Riley attributes her decision to establish the Open Door School to a combination of influences, including her parents' pedagogical beliefs and her own educational experiences at the Modern School in Stelton, New Jersey and at Black Mountain College. Ms. Riley discusses the close affiliation of the Open Door School with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, and describes the differences between Open Door and other church affiliated preschools. Ms. Riley defines open education as being "child centered," and stresses the importance of integration for fulfilling the open school mission. She discusses her role as a spokesperson for the "People for Open Education" and explains her part in the establishment of Irwin Avenue Open Elementary. The interview closes with a conversation about the current education system and the decline of open education in the United States and in Charlotte.