Critics say survey tells Wake board to rethink

Most parents happy with school calendars

Staff WriterFebruary 5, 2010 

  • Wake County residents will have their say, beginning Tuesday, on school calendars at four public meetings. Go to www.wcpss.net/news/2010_jan12_meetings to see how to sign up to speak.

    The meetings will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the auditoriums of these schools:

    Tuesday at Holly Springs High, 5329 Cass Holt Road

    Feb. 18 at Heritage High, 1150 Forestville Road, Wake Forest

    Feb. 23 at Leesville Road High, 8409 Leesville Road, Raleigh

    Feb. 25 at Panther Creek High, 6770 McCrimmon Parkway, Cary

— Plans by the Wake County school board's ruling majority to overhaul the way students are assigned are being complicated by the board's own survey, which shows nearly all parents like the status quo.

Results released this week show that 94.5 percent of the nearly 40,000 parents who participated in the survey said they were satisfied or very satisfied with where their children attend school, regardless of whether a traditional or year-round calendar is used. That satisfaction level extends across North Carolina's largest school district, from parents of magnet school kids to those whose children attend schools with a more basic curriculum.

Even at the more than 20 schools that were converted to a year-round calendar in 2007, which led to a lawsuit by upset parents that went to the state Supreme Court, a significant majority now say they like the new schedule.

At the converted schools, 62 percent said they'd prefer the year-round calendar compared to 33 percent for the traditional calendar.

At least one parent thinks that the survey results should dampen the ruling coalition's desire for massive change.

"All during the election, we heard people say how bad year-round was," said Lori Aveni, a parent at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, one of the converted schools. "The survey results pretty much show that people in traditional and year-round like it. The board needs to slow down."

Kevin Hill, a member of the board's minority, agreed.

"To hear that 62 percent of the parents at the converted schools prefer the year-round calendar suggests that we'd need to think twice before making changes," said school board member Kevin Hill, part of the board minority.

Tedesco not convinced

But board member John Tedesco, one of four newcomers elected last fall, cautioned against reading too much into the 94.5 percent figure, which is based on the responses of less than a third of the roughly 140,000 parents in the district. Tedesco will be the chief architect of the new assignment plan that would scrap the diversity policy and shift Wake toward neighborhood schools.

Tedesco said the high satisfaction figure indicates that parents want stability for their children. He said the system that the board majority hopes to begin phasing in during the 2011-2012 school year won't lead to as many students changing schools as critics fear.

Tedesco is looking at a plan that would divide Wake into as many as 20 different assignment zones with children going to schools within their community. Some existing magnet schools could lose their programs because Tedesco wants to spread magnet programs around the county instead of concentrating them in or near Southeast Raleigh. As originally conceived, magnet programs are meant to lure suburban students to schools that would otherwise be high-poverty institutions.

"What we're looking to do is a better assignment model that allows us to deal with growth and provide students the best education possible," Tedesco said.

The new board members requested the parental survey after taking office in December. They're using it to help determine whether the calendars of any schools will change this fall.

A goal of the survey was to find out whether there's widespread support for changing calendars, especially at the schools that were converted to a year-round calendar. But at only three of those converted schools - Leesville Road Middle, Salem Middle and Wakefield Elementary - did a majority of those who responded say they prefer a traditional calendar.

Wake converted schools to year-round calendars to keep up with projected student growth that hasn't materialized yet because of the recession. The conversions marked the first time that a majority of the students at year-round schools were not there by choice, leading to complaints about disrupting family life.

Board members say the survey results likely put to rest any possibility that many of the schools would be converted back to a traditional calendar. Only a few conversions are likely to be approved, they said.

"Parents want stability," Tedesco said. "They've adjusted. They're tired of having their calendars jerked around."

The school board will hold at least four public hearings this month on school calendars before administrators recommend March 2 which schools to convert this fall.

Skeptic is converted

Parent Ann Colucci said she was skeptical of the year-round calendar when Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh switched in 2007.

But she said she loves how the year-round calendar doesn't burn out children because they have three-week breaks after nine weeks of classes.

"The people who didn't care for year-round have gotten out now," she said.

But Kathleen Brennan, a co-founder of Wake CARES, the parent group whose lawsuit over the conversions was decided by the state Supreme Court, said the board needs to decide on what's best for the system.

Brennan's group argued that students could be assigned to a year-round school only with parental permission while school officials said they need to make such assignments mandatory. The high court sided with the school district.

She says the year-round schools are operating so inefficiently that many are violating state class size limits.

"There's still a lot of reasons to examine what's going on in the schools and have a good balance across the county," Brennan said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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