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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

District Partner 2008-2011, 2013-2016

ERS partnered with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to deeply analyze their use of people, time, and money, and support a roll-out of Strategic School Design in schools across the district. In the past we have conducted a resource map, supported CMS’ Strategic Staffing Initiative, helped with the development of the five-year strategic plan, and advised on English Language Learners and special education.

“We came to view ERS as part of our team...they pressed us hard to dig below the surface and challenge long-standing traditions. They’re not a vendor; they’re a partner."
-Ann Clark, Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

District Facts

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools serves about 145,000 students, a little over half of whom qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch. Their graduation rate has risen for five years in a row, and in 2011, CMS won the prestigious Broad Prize—which honors large urban school districts that show the greatest academic performance improvement while reducing achievement gaps.

But it’s also a relatively low-funded district, and CMS’ leaders want to make sure they can meet the goals of their Strategic Plan 2018 with their limited resources. Their plan calls for a focus on accountability and flexibility, personalized learning and a premier workforce, among other goals.


Work Focus


  • Resource Mapping: Conduct the ERS resource mapping process for the district, which assesses how the district's use of people, time, and money aligns with its priorities


  • Resource Mapping: Advance the district’s efforts to align its use of resources with its 2014 strategic plan and support resource realignment through the 2010-2011 budget development process
  • School Turnaround: Help district leadership evolve the Strategic Staffing Initiative—a CMS strategy which placed strong principals along with a team of highly effective teachers and administrators at low-performing schools—to build on lessons learned and national best practices, so that it could be expanded to more schools
  • School Evaluation: Inject principles of effective resource use into CMS’ School Quality Review process


  • Strategic School Design: Support the 2nd and 3rd cohort of the Strategic Staffing Initiative, and provide training and support for developing strategic school designs
  • Special Education: Help special education leadership develop departmental strategic plan focused on ROI and continuous improvement
  • ELL Resource Strategy: Help ELL departmental leadership analyze ELL student- and school-level data to inform prioritization of support resources, evolution to ELL staffing model and identification of best practice schools
  • Teacher Compensation: Build a financial model to help CMS explore teacher compensation redesign; work with CMS project leadership to develop scenarios for use with CMS working group


  • Resource Mapping: Refresh our analysis of the district’s resource use, looking at where resources can be more productively allocated and where there are barriers to implementation
  • School Design: Work with Public Impact to support CMS on the Student Success by Design Collaborative—a significant rethinking of CMS’ approach to school design. At the schools in this collaborative cohort, principals will implement “redesigns” to their schedules, staffing plans, and resource use that extend the reach of excellent teachers and create an Opportunity Culture (per Public Impact’s models).


  • Focus on Middle Schools: Work with a “Middle School Action Team” to review focus areas that surfaced during the Resource Map, including transition years like 6th grade, providing expert support for teachers, and personalization of learning. Consider what strategies are needed and how the funding system should change to address those areas.
  • School-Level Resource Use Reports: Build capacity within CMS to collect, process, and provide key school-level data to all principals in easy-to-use reports
  • Strategic School Design: Continue to advise Student Success by Design cohort schools and continue school design training through a “train-the-trainer” model
  • Budget Modeling: Help CMS create cost projections for their five year strategic plan

Findings and Outcomes

From our 2013-2014 project:

  • Identifying Priorities: Our Resource Map helped CMS identify areas where they could potentially use their resources more effectively—for example, to ensure enough individual attention for students in “transition” years, and to target enough funding to economically disadvantaged students. These findings contributed to the work of the Middle School Action Team, which is now considering what strategies will address these areas.
  • Data-Informed School Planning: In the spring of 2014, every CMS principal met with their school supervisor to review a “School-Level Resource Use Report”—a document which showed basic student achievement data alongside other factors like time in core subjects and teacher experience. This allowed principals to plan for the following year by shifting teacher teams or changing schedules, for example.
  • School Design: As a result of the Student Success by Design initiative, which ERS co-facilitated with Public Impact, leaders from 17 schools received training in how to identify school priorities, and created new school plans that included new resource strategies to address those priorities. As of the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, schools planned to implement strategies like increasing time for collaborative planning, adding blocks for enrichment and intervention, creating new teacher-leader roles, many more.

From our earlier work: 2008-2011

  • School Design: ERS provided significant school design support through the Strategic Staffing Initiative, wherein a cohort of high-performing principals opted to move to low-performing schools along with a select team. ERS assembled data on each Strategic Staffing school, including student demographics, staff lists, class size, budgets, and student performance and teacher indicators. We also provided the principals with research, case studies, trainings, panel discussions, and school design and human capital consultations as the basis for 2-3 School Design Templates. These templates included schedules, staffing templates and intervention models for serving struggling students. Overall, SSI schools experienced significant improvement. Two of the schools that ERS worked most closely with, Ashley Park and Devonshire Elementary, have achieved dramatic gains and awards. When CMS was award the Broad Prize in 2011, the Strategic Staffing Initiative was cited as one of the key factors.
  • Budget Crisis: As CMS faced a large decline in revenue, ERS worked with district leadership to make cuts while preserving funds for the most strategic initiatives. Some of the results included:
    • Replaced seniority with performance as the primary criteria for layoff decisions
    • Raised class sizes and offered on-line courses in low-enrollment classes, in order to maintain breadth of offerings at reduced cost
  • Human Capital: As a result of our analysis, Charlotte-Mecklenburg made strategic changes to its human capital strategy:
    • Eliminated job fair and replaced with teacher auditions at “teaching camps” as part of a focus on finding talent rather than just filling classrooms
    • Identified 144 “master teachers” who are helping others improve their skills. Those teachers are either working in “strategic staffing” schools; using their classrooms to demonstrate good teaching; or teaching courses for colleagues
  • Teacher Compensation: ERS built a financial model to support CMS’s very early exploration of teacher compensation redesign, and worked with CMS project leadership to develop scenarios for their compensation working group

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