New mapping data impacts Wake County student assignment plan

khui@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2012 

A previously unannounced change in the way the Wake County school system determines how far students live from school is affecting the ability of some families to get into the school they want for this fall.

Proximity is key because families who live within 1.5 miles of a school – the “walk zone” in which bus service isn’t required – are supposed to get high priority when they make their choices under the new student assignment plan. But some families were given a lower ranking than they anticipated because they thought they were in a school’s walk zone, but the new software says they are not.

One parent who was caught in the confusion is Penny Cobb. She thought she lived close enough to Millbrook High School that her son would be easily assigned there. Instead he’s 21st on a wait list.

“I’ve always been a cheerleader for the school system,” Cobb said. “But this has left me so frustrated.”

On Thursday, school officials didn’t know how many families who, like the Cobbs, had their priority altered by new mapping data. Judy Peppler, Wake’s chief transformation officer, said parents may be misjudging whether they are close enough to a school to have priority for assignment. Peppler says they’ve seated most of the rising kindergarten, sixth-grade and ninth-grade applicants who requested their walk-zone school as their first choice. The acceptance rate drops for students who live beyond 1.5 miles and have a lower priority.

Cobb wasn’t worried when she applied for her son Austin, an eighth-grader at West Millbrook Middle School, to attend Millbrook High. Her older child, Jeff, had graduated from Millbrook High School in 2011 and was never offered bus service because the school system’s transportation department considered him within the walk zone. Then she found out last Friday that her younger son was put on Millbrook’s wait list.

Miffed by the result, Cobb contacted the transportation department and received an email Monday telling her that she lived within Millbrook’s walk zone. But Peppler told her this week that the student assignment software listed her as living 1.6 miles from Millbrook.

When contacted by a reporter Thursday, Peppler responded that Wake is using the most up-to-date software from Google Maps API. Wake is paying up to $110,000 to education consultant Michael Alves to use his student assignment software. Peppler said the transportation department is using older data that she expects them to upgrade to be consistent with what’s used in student assignment.

“They have a reason for everything,” said Cobb, who says she lives 1.3 miles from Millbrook. “It doesn’t mean the reason is legitimate.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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