Walnut Creek full, Tata says

Wants no more students there

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2011 

Wake County's newest elementary school is so crowded that Superintendent Tony Tata said Friday that he wants permission to stop sending additional students there.

Tata will ask the school board Tuesday to cap enrollment at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh. If a cap is approved, new students who move into Walnut Creek's attendance area during the rest of this school year will be sent to schools that have more space.

The crowding at Walnut Creek comes after school leaders pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the high-poverty school. Tata plans to provide even more resources because of the crowding.

"We believe we are on the right track, and we need to take action to stay on the right track and stabilize enrollment at the school," Tata said Friday at a news conference.

Walnut Creek has been one of the most scrutinized new school openings in the county's history.

Earlier this year, the school board voted to change which neighborhoods would go to Walnut Creek to be in line with the new assignment policy that promotes sending students to schools closer to where they live. With the changes leading to projections that the enrollment would have many low-income and low-performing students, school leaders agreed to provide additional resources.

Extra resources

Tata said Walnut Creek, where 72 percent of students are eligible for federally subsidized lunches, is receiving about $1 million more than a school like Davis Drive Elementary in Cary, which has a much smaller percentage of low-income students.

The additional resources have led to features such as a longer school day, class sizes as small as 14 students in third- and fourth-grades, additional technology and free school meals for all students.

"There's no other school with this combination of resources and class size in the district," Tata said.

Tata said he's also looking to see whether he can find funding to add Walnut Creek to the Renaissance Schools Program.

Because of federal grant money, staff members at four high-poverty and lower-performing elementary schools in Wake are getting additional resources, such as hiring bonuses and merit pay.

Coping with more pupils

Built to handle 780 students, Walnut Creek has an enrollment of more than 930. Tata said the system will provide additional staff, including extra teachers to help reduce class sizes from 22 students in kindergarten through second-grade down to the original goal of 15 students per class.

"I'm proud of the team at Walnut Creek and all they've done to make it a high-demand school," Tata said.

Tata said his staff Tuesday will give the board a list of schools where students could be sent instead of Walnut Creek.

Cedar Fork Elementary School in Morrisville is the only Wake school with an enrollment cap now.

School board member Keith Sutton, who represents Southeast Raleigh, said he requested the cap at Walnut Creek because the crowding has made it challenging to deliver on the academic goals and priorities that the school put in place.

"It's a tough situation to deliver on the promises that made it such a high-demand school," Sutton said.

New plan's impact

Tata said the crowding at Walnut Creek shows how the new choice-based student assignment plan will be an improvement. Under the new plan, families will request which schools they want to attend. But school administrators wouldn't accept more students than a school could handle unless an exception was made.

This week, families received letters from the school system listing their initial school assignments for the 2012-13 school year.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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