CARY — At a last meeting with the Republican majority of the past two years in control, the Wake County school board on Tuesday tabled a key GOP goal of a new math placement policy for middle schools.
However, members voted unanimously to place an enrollment cap on the brand-new, enhanced-option Walnut Creek Elementary School, where attendance skyrocketed after Wake poured a million extra dollars into what had been projected to be a low-income, low-achieving school.
Overall, the board took actions that could be interpreted as already reflecting the new Democratic majority that will be sworn in Dec. 6.
Republican member Deborah Prickett crossed party lines to join Democrats in 5-3 vote against the math policy, which says that middle school students should be placed in advanced math classes if a computer program developed by the SAS Institute says they're ready.
Under the new policy, which Republicans promoted heavily in recent elections, students who are projected by the Education Value-Added Assessment System to have a 70 percent chance or greater of success would be placed in advanced math courses in middle school.
"There are too many questions now," Prickett said, noting concerns that the approach may need to change to comply with national math standards.
Vice Chairman John Tedesco, who has long backed the motion, said after the vote that he was aware of confusion about how to put the approach into effect. He thinks the motion will survive in an amended form.
"We will live to fight another day," he said.
The board agreed to stop sending new students to Walnut Creek Elementary for the rest of the school year in a bid to control overcrowding at the Southeast Raleigh school. New students who move into Walnut Creek's attendance area for the rest of the school year will be sent to Creech Road Elementary School in Garner.
Walnut Creek has 929 students; its capacity is 780.
"It's not the time to point fingers or affix blame," said board member Keith Sutton, whose district includes Walnut Creek. "Walnut Creek is hemorrhaging, and we needed to stop the bleeding. We did that with the cap."
School officials blamed the enrollment surge on unexpected growth in the area around Walnut Creek Elementary and the high quality of the programs being added to the school.
Earlier this year, the school board changed which neighborhoods would go to Walnut Creek to keep it in line with the new assignment policy that promotes sending students to schools closer to where they live. Because of projections that the changes would draw too many low-income and low-performing students, school leaders agreed to provide additional resources.
The additional resources have led to a longer school day, a focus on science, engineering and math, additional technology, and free school meals for all students.
But the large enrollment has caused Walnut Creek to fall short of its goal of having class sizes of 20 students or fewer.
Wake will hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes.