Tata: New Wake assignment plan is ready

Staff writerSeptember 30, 2011 

— Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata said today that the new student assignment plan is ready and needs to be adopted soon for it to be implemented for the 2012-13 school year.

Tata had announced Thursday that he’ll ask the school board to approve on Oct. 18 the new plan that replaced the old system of assigning students in part based on socioeconomic diversity. Critics have complained that too many questions exist about the plan, which overhauls the way students are assigned, for it to be approved in the next few weeks.

“We could take years to do it and discuss this for a long time, but at this point it’s my professional judgment that this plan is ready,” Tata said today at a press conference.

Tats said delaying adoption of the plan would only hurt parents and students as his staff works on the logistics for implementation.

Families would no longer be assigned to a specific school based on home addresses. Instead, families would get a list of schools to choose from, with most being schools closest to where they live.

Administrators have said they expect to give at least 85 percent of the families their top choice in the selection lottery.

Tata pointed to the marketing plan that will need to be implemented to get families to pick schools.

“It’s fundamentally different,” Tata said. “Instead of being told where you go to school, you get to choose.”

Only families with children entering kindergarten, who are new to the district next year or who want to change their current schools would have to participate in the lottery. Families who want to stay at their current schools next year would be "grandfathered in" and would keep their bus transportation.

Tata also responded to criticism that the plan was rushed. He pointed out that his student assignment task force had worked on the new plan for seven months. He contrasted it with how the magnet school program was approved by the school board in 1982 only three months after the plan was presented by then-Superintendent Walter Marks.

“We believe our plan is equally visionary and has gone through equal rigor,” Tata said.

Tata also said the roots of the new plan go even further back than March. He said it’s based in part on the student assignment model that was developed by Michael Alves, who was hired last September by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership.

Tata said the task force is working on some remaining issues before presenting the plan to the school board on Tuesday.

One of the main questions from families is that the plan would change the middle schools and high schools their neighborhoods have historically attended.

Tata said they’re continuing to review some feeder pattern changes that may be made before Tuesday. But, even if they’re not changed, he said parents who want to go to a different middle school and high school than the one they’d be slated to attend would have priority if they wanted to go to their closest secondary school. While it’s a priority and not a guarantee, Tata said he expects that the requests would be approved.

Tata repeatedly criticized the current assignment plan as not being able to keep up with growth and provide stability. He said that, unless the new plan is adopted, Wake could reassign 70,000 students over the next decade.

The new plan is supposed to provide stability because students wouldn’t be reassigned any longer. New schools would be filled by volunteers. Existing schools wouldn’t take more students than they can hold.

“No plan is perfect but the old plan isn’t working,” Tata said. “I believe this plan will take us into the next decade.”

khui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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