Few in eastern Wake made school choice

11 percent of eastern Wake participated in new student assignment plan

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2012 

Kim Maske hands out papers to her kindergarden class at Hodge Road Elementary in February. Maske and most of her students speak english and spanish, though there is no spanish language program at the school or any other elementary school in Knightdale.

PAUL A. SPECHT - ASPECHT@NEWSOBS

  • Top choices The information below indicates the number of students who selected the specific schools as their top choice: High schools: East Wake High: 49 Knightdale High: 38 Enloe (Magnet) High: 43 Heritage High: 46 Millbrook (Magnet) High: 35 Southeast Raleigh (Magnet) High: 36 Middle schools: East Wake Middle: 6 Wendell Middle: 82 Zebulon (Magnet) Middle: 20 Centennial Campus (Magnet) Middle: 45 Ligon (Magnet) Middle: 87 Moore Square (Magnet) Middle: 20 East Garner (Magnet) Middle: 46

Data released last week on eastern Wake County’s participation in the school district’s new student “choice” assignment plan left school officials pleased and local advocates calling for more resources.

Wake County Schools adopted a new student assignment plan this year which allows students to rank their preferred schools for the upcoming school year. Previously, a school’s socioeconomics – rather than student’s preference – played a heavier role in student assignment. School officials hope the process improves parents’ satisfaction.

The Eastern Wake News analyzed data released by Wake County Schools on May 29. Here are some highlights:

•  About 11 percent of the student population in Knightdale, Wendell, and Zebulon participated in the first two rounds of the school choice process (about 990 of 9,070 students)

•  Approximately 67 percent of the students from eastern Wake who participated in the choice plan picked schools outside of the region as their top choice (670 students listed a non-regional school as their top choice, while 319 students listed a local school as their top choice).

•  Of those who listed a non-regional school as their top choice, approximately 35 percent (239 of 670 students) were granted their request by Wake County.

Brad McMillen, of Wake Schools’ student assignment task force, says the numbers indicate the choice system is working in eastern Wake County.

“In the end, only about 7 percent of our student population will have participated in the choice plan countywide,” McMillen said, noting that assignment is ongoing. “I think the results show that most people, in east Wake and elsewhere, are happy where they are ... and those who aren’t were able to pick a school they wanted.”

Local education advocates aren’t so sure.

For one, the choice assignment plan is still new, so it’s unclear how it will affect eastern Wake over time, advocates pointed out.

Also, according to Toshiba Rice, who runs a Triangle-wide academic support organization, the results can’t be taken at face value because many parents in eastern Wake did not know how to participate in the school selection process.

“I talk to parents everyday. Many of them told me that they didn’t know how to get their kid into the right school because the online process is complicated,” said Rice, who held a rally in May to boost support for local schools.

School officials held student assignment information sessions earlier this year at East Wake High and Knightdale High, but few parents attended. Rice says officials need to do more to educate parents about the choice process.

Attracted to magnets

A third of students who participated in the choice plan listed a magnet school outside the region as their top choice.

Shannon Hardy, a leader of Knightdale 100, which advocates for better Knightdale schools, said the exodus from Knightdale to magnets has always existed because local schools don’t have the same level of classes.

“From what I hear from parents, it’s not about the teachers or anything else. The teachers are great,” Hardy said. “It’s the curriculum. Parents want more challenging courses that are only offered at outside magnet schools.”

There are no magnet schools in Knightdale, Hardy noted.

Middle and high schools were impacted most. More than 110 students listed a magnet high school as their top choice. About 200 students chose a non-regional magnet middle school as their top choice.

Calendar conflict

East Wake Middle was chosen the least – a fact that’s not necessarily indicative of its growth. Principal Nancy Allen says enrollment is up for next year. The school is two years away from reaching capacity for a year-round school.

Hardy says the year-round calendar is part of the problem.

Two of the four feeder elementary schools for East Wake Middle are on traditional schools. The other two are on year-round schedules similar to East Wake. But Hardy says there are more parents who want their children attending a middle school with a traditional schedule.

“Parents here desperately want to support local schools, but they’d rather send their kid to Wendell (Middle) than East Wake (Middle) because it’s on a traditional schedule,” Hardy said.

Help needed

Schools in eastern Wake need more attention regardless of the assignment plan in place, Hardy and Rice say. Namely: more AP courses in high schools and foreign language education for more elementary schools, Hardy sid.

But the need for improvement will grow more desperate if the students who are opting out of local schools turn out to be high achievers.

“Our schools need help as it is,” Rice said. “If kids with high test scores start to leave, others will follow.

“What we need is a makeover. Parents need to be more involved, but more than anything, the district needs to give us more attention.”

Specht: 919-829-4826

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