Accreditation group objects to Wake conditions

STAFF WRITERSJanuary 13, 2011 

  • More than two dozen speakers Wednesday urged the Wake County school board to change a proposal that would send 4,703 students to different schools for the 2011-12 school year.

    Most of the 28 speakers came with a variety of suggestions but the one common theme is they don't like what's now on the table.

    The largest contingent was parents from York Elementary School in northwest Raleigh, who asked that York be made a magnet school. Parents argued that it didn't make sense to leave York so under enrolled at only 73 percent of capacity.

    A group of parents from Daniels Middle School in Raleigh argued they didn't have the cafeteria space to take an additional 174 students, many from the Southeast Raleigh area. Staff had recommended moving those students to send them to a closer middle school.

    Sandy Haar, a Daniels parent, argued that families who live around Daniels, near Cameron Village, may choose to go to charter schools and private schools if the school gets another large influx of low-income families.

    Administrators had recommended moving 3,224 students for this fall. Over a pair of work sessions, board members added nearly 1,500 more students to the plan.

    But board members stressed that being added for consideration doesn't mean they'll necessarily reassign those students.

    The four remaining hearings will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. today at Heritage High in Wake Forest, Jan. 19 at Southeast Raleigh High, Jan. 20 at Garner High and Jan. 24 at Cary High.

    You can go to www.wcpss.net/signup/assignment to register online in advance to speak at the meetings.

    The board will hold work sessions on the plan on Jan. 25 and Jan. 27 with a final vote potentially occurring Feb. 1.

    Staff writer T. Keung Hui

— The head of a national accrediting agency flatly rejected today the Wake County school board's conditions for going ahead with a probe that could affect the status of the district's 24 high schools.

In a letter sent today to AdvancEd, a Georgia-based organization conducting a review, school leaders restated their desire for school board members and staff to have attorneys representing them during interviews with the review team. The letter also sets terms such as demanding to know in advance what topics will be discussed during the interviews.

Mark Elgart, the president and CEO of AdvancED, said the conditions were "unacceptable." He said they're prepared to conduct the probe without Wake's cooperation. He said they'd only drop the review if Wake withdraws membership from the organization.

"It's disappointing in the fact they've failed to recongnize that we're trying to help them improve," Elgart said in an interview today. "We're not here to dictate policy to them."

School leaders, who are still questioning the scope of the review in the letter, are also asking AdvancED to:

- Agree in advance of the interview what topics will be covered and the process followed;

- Agree in advance on how to handle specific inquiries made during the interviews that relate to litigation and /or are beyond the agreed upon topics Advise Wake in advance of the interview as to what finds relating to the operation of the school board would lead to some change in accreditation status.

“Anything less than a positive response to this letter will force the Board to also consider its continuing relationship with AdvancED,” according to the letter written by school board attorneys Ann Majestic and Jonathan Blumberg. The school board had voted 5-3 Wednesday night to send the letter rather than to make an immediate decision on whether to break ties with AdvancED.

AdvancED accredits more than 25,000 of the nation's schools, has been reviewing Wake's 143,000-student school system in response to a complaint by the state NAACP, which told AdvancED that the board was not following its own policies when it took steps to discard its socioeconomic diversity policy.

An investigation by the federal education department's Office for Civil Rights remains in progress; it was also sparked by an NAACP complaint.

The Wake school board leadership has been resisting elements of the AdvancED review, saying that some of the agency's questions are too broad and concern matters that shouldn't affect accreditation. In addition to student assignment, AdvancED has raised questions about several other matters, such as the board's hiring of attorney Thomas Farr as special interim counsel, the use of the conservative Civitas Institute to train board members, the cost of ending mandatory year-round schools and the cost of not building a high school on Forestville Road.

Accreditation has been viewed as a valuable means of keeping standards high, encouraging professional development and making sure students have an equal shot at scholarships and college admissions.

Loss of accreditation could make it harder for students to get scholarships or to get accepted into colleges, particularly those located outside of North Carolina.

Staff writer Jane Stancill contributed to this report.

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

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