Sheehan

As the schools turn

Staff WriterOctober 14, 2009 

Somewhere, in a subdivision in western Wake County, I hope the parents of serially reassigned schoolchildren are having a good chuckle at my expense.

I don't blame them. For years I have been writing about Wake County schools and the struggle to keep up with growth while maintaining a diverse mix of students in the classrooms.

I was sympathetic to families whose kids were forced to change schools, switch to a year-round schedule or, worse yet, some combination of the above. But it was easy enough for me to make my sympathetic murmurings. I thought I'd gamed the system, avoiding a neighborhood middle school I didn't want by enrolling my sons in a magnet program starting in kindergarten.

While others' kids were being reassigned, my kids were safely ensconced at schools in Southeast Raleigh.

Now, of course, following last week's school board election, the future of the magnet system is unclear.

Bottom line: I have no idea where my kids will be going to school in the next few years.

Turnabout is fair play.

But that goes for our new school board members, too.

They've had a grand time over the past several months critiquing the Wake School board, carping about forced busing and reassignments, calling for that grand fix-it-all, neighborhood schools.

Now those growling candidates are the dogs that caught the yellow school bus.

One thing is true of every leader but especially of school board members: governing is harder than campaigning.

Governing means waking up to the harsh reality that, however you shrug off the dire warnings of resegregation, some neighborhood schools will be high-poverty schools. How will they be served?

How do you bring relief to parents sick of being reassigned when switching to a neighborhood-based system could require the reassignment of as many as 50,000 students?

That's more than a third of the students in Wake schools.

And that presumes Wake's growth will come to a full stop. Which it won't.

Perhaps the newly fashioned school board, narrowly divided between the neighborhood and diversity camps, will find common ground -- in a new version of the magnet system?

If nothing else, I hope the board members, new and old, take a few lessons from this election.

To the sitting school board members: I hold you responsible for this mess by failing to make a compelling case for Wake's wonderful schools and enlightened diversity policy. I blame you for failing to connect with, and defuse, angry parents. (Note to new board members: most parents are angry by the time they get to you.) Parents viewed the sitting board as arrogant and unbending.

To the entire board, I would advise: Keep families together and on the same calendars.

And for goodness' sake, do away with wacky Wednesdays, the weekly early release, and the straw that broke the voters' backs.

Remember, the tables can always turn. And eventually, they do.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

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