Wake school changes likely gradual

New board eyes orderly reform

Staff WritersDecember 1, 2009 

  • It's likely that only early birds will snag a seat for today's first meeting of the new Wake County school board.

    Another tough job will be to find a spot at the parking-challenged school board headquarters on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

    A capacity crowd is expected to catch any early developments in busing, year-round schools and the magnet program.

    Events kick off with a 3 p.m. swearing-in ceremony and housekeeping items, followed by a break for a reception. Action is to resume about 5:15 p.m.

    And those who miss the meeting will have to check local listings to catch up - each of several cable systems around Wake County will air it at different times.

    What: Wake County school board meeting

    When: 3 p.m. today

    Where: Central Administration Building, 3600 Wake Forest Road

    More information: 850-1600 or www.wcpss.net

— It will likely be a yard or two and a cloud of dust, instead of a flurry of first-quarter touchdown passes.

That is, a new Wake County school board's transformation of the 140,000-student system will likely occur in increments, not giant steps. In one key example, members said a conversion to neighborhood schools will more likely take place for the 2011-12 school year instead of next fall.

"We have to look at the process," said Chris Malone, a new member who campaigned for neighborhood schools and ending forced busing for diversity. "If we see an opportunity to get it done quicker, we are going to do it."

With four new members' swearing-in scheduled for today, early indications are that some of their promises - such as a change in the magnet lottery system - will be much more quickly achieved than others. When the new members - Malone, John Tedesco, Debra Goldman and Deborah Prickett - join current member Ron Margiotta in a majority coalition, they will have to deal with the system's size and complexity, delaying tactics by remaining board members and resistance by some community and parents groups.

Malone said members will be thoughtful and deliberate when putting new procedures in place. A slow pace is also supported by current board members who would like to keep current policies as long as possible. That includes using busing and reassignments to balance the percentages of low-income students at schools.

"I would feel comfortable as long as they go slowly," said Carolyn Morrison, a supporter of the diversity policy who was appointed to the board in September after Beverley Clark resigned.

Instead of sweepingchanges in place for the 2010-11 school year, Tedesco envisions first changing the student assignment policy, which includes busing for diversity and mandatory year-round schools.

"We will begin to make systemic changes," Tedesco said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

But Tedesco said some changes can be implemented by the summer, such as eliminating the weekly early-class dismissals for teacher planning known by critics as "Wacky Wednesdays" and changing the rules to select students for magnet schools.

Tedesco said parents can expect to be asked more for their feedback. For instance, he said the board would likely survey parents to see if they want their schools to change calendars.

Tedesco said how much they can accomplish today will depend on the resistance they get from the old board members.

"You'll see some things today," Tedesco said. "It may depend on what parliamentary procedures they use."

Dan Levinson and Cheryl Goldberg, two parents in Cary, are watching anxiously to see how any changes will affect daughters Hannah, 11, at Carnage Middle-Magnet School, and Sarah, 14, at Green Hope High School. The family supports the current system, even though they've been through frequent reassignment. Goldberg thinks the moves were more a product of rapid growth in Cary than the diversity-focused system that helped lure them from California in 2003.

"In California, there just wasn't enough tax money, and a lot of the schools were bad as a result," Goldberg said. "It got to the point where you would have to be very, very wealthy to be in a good school district. You'd have to earn a quarter of a million dollars a year.

"We thought we had died and gone to heaven when we came here."

But Apex parent Glenn Jones is excited about the prospect of neighborhood schools' "bringing a sense of community" to Wake. His 10-year-old daughter, Katelyn, is now at Laurel Park Elementary School after having been reassigned twice.

"I'm excited that we've got a fresh breath and a new set of eyes on the board," Jones said.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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