The new majority of Democrats on the Wake County school board say they will begin their reign with an in-depth look at the system's recently passed, choice-based student assignment plan.
If incumbent Democrat Kevin Hill gets his way, the nine-member board will hold a meeting to tackle the assignment plan on Dec. 7, the day after the new majority is sworn in. The plan that Superintendent Tony Tata and other staffers spent months crafting represents a fundamental shift from the diversity-based attendance zones the county has used for more than three decades.
Under that plan, adopted by the outgoing Republican-majority board last month, parents will begin making their school choices for the 2012-13 school year in January. Members of the new majority say they want to do a thorough review of the plan to address any issues that may have been overlooked and to make sure that it does enough to help low-achieving students.
"The assignment plan is very time-sensitive," Hill said. "We'll be into the December holidays, and time is short. I requested that we get our sleeves rolled up and get to work."
Some among the new majority believe that the school system should make use of more creative approaches and an infusion of resources to deal with the achievement problem.
"If we want to be a national leader in education, we have to have the courage and the commitment to provide educational resources for all students," said newly elected member Jim Martin. "It's not going to be one-size-fits-all."
Questions about the future of the assignment plan have escalated since Democrats won all five school board seats on the November ballot, reversing the 5-4 Republican majority.
Hill said he's not out to do a wholesale revision of the new plan. But he said he wants to schedule a board work session for Dec. 7 because he's not meeting as a group with the new majority, which includes three newly elected members, before Dec. 6.
Members of the new majority say they want to avoid the questions that dogged the Republican board majority when members met in 2009 before being sworn in. While the meeting was not illegal, critics accused Republicans of trying to skirt the N.C. Open Meetings Law by meeting as a group without advance notice to agree on the items they presented at their first board meeting.
"We will let the community know about the meetings well in advance," Martin said. "There will be no surprises."
Meanwhile, the Wake system has embarked on what planners have called the vitally important effort of educating parents about the complex choice plan. Families are guaranteed a seat at the school that their students attend now, but also will get a list of as many as eight other options.
More than 300 people packed into the gym/cafeteria at Durant Road Elementary last week, listening intently as Wake County schools staffers presented a parent-friendly lesson on the plan. Growth and planning director Laura Evans used a Powerpoint projection and some folksy wisdom to answer dozens of parents' questions on the plan.
Kim Freeman, who has a third-grader at Durant Road Elementary and a seventh-grader at Durant Road Middle, came away relieved after having her questions answered about her older son.
"I know that I'm locked in; I don't have to change schools if I don't want to," Freeman said. "When he gets to high school and wants to change his high school, I will get first priority because it's closer." Freeman liked the feature of the plan that gives students a feeder pattern to follow through elementary, middle and high schools.
Elisabeth Galanos' situation was different.
"I have seventh- and eighth-graders in the magnet program, but I don't like the magnet high school choice," Galanos said. "If I used choice and choose another high school that's closer, do I get in? What happens?"
Her kids have been given Southeast Raleigh High School as their magnet option.
"I drive my kids to school, and I don't want to drive that far," she said
Parent Mustafa Dahnoun is taking the opportunity of the new plan to move his son into Wake schools at ninth grade.
I think it's going to be a good thing," Dahnoun said. "Obviously you're not going be able to satisfy everyone, but it's a good thing."