Wake school board heeds parents in changes to assignment plan

Parents heeded on assignment plan

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 4, 2012 

  • Sutton named school board chairman Keith Sutton was elected chairman of the Wake County school board Tuesday. Sutton was elected 5-4, with all Democrats in favor, to replace Kevin Hill, who didn’t seek a new one-year term as chairman. Republicans voted for Deborah Prickett. Sutton, who has been the board’s Southeast Raleigh representative since August 2009, said he’d work on gaining the public’s trust as Wake faces challenges over the next year, such as hiring a new superintendent, developing a new long-range student assignment plan, and working on a school-construction bond issue. Christine Kushner was elected 5-4 to replace Sutton as vice chairwoman. Republicans again voted for Prickett.

— Amid a constant refrain of providing stability to families, Wake County school leaders backed off Tuesday on some proposed student-assignment changes and on moving the day of the week when students will have half days off for teacher training.

The school board gave preliminary approval to several changes that would reduce the number of students who would face different school assignments for the 2013-14 school year. Also citing the desire for stability, school staff said they’re also backing away from the idea of moving early-release days – in which students are sent home 2-1/2 hours early – from Fridays to Wednesdays.

“Stability is the word of the day. That’s what the community hopes and wants,” said Keith Sutton, the newly elected board chairman, who added that one of his goals is to bring the board together.

But the strains on the board between the Democratic majority and the Republican minority continued to show. During the meeting, board member Deborah Prickett accused colleague Susan Evans of “assault” for having yanked a microphone from her hands when Prickett tried to talk with parents last week at a student assignment public hearing.

Prickett said that board meetings have become a “hostile work environment” and that board members who didn’t change their behavior should resign. Evans has apologized for yanking the microphone away, but argued that Prickett was out of order last week. Evans declined comment Tuesday.

Amid the tension, board members found some common ground Tuesday.

School assignment staff had proposed a plan for the 2013-14 school year that would reassign 1,479 students. In addition, other school assignments that aren’t officially counted in the figure would change.

The new assignment plan would restore the practice of tying each address to a specific school. It replaces the choice plan being used this school year.

The new assignment proposal reflects the school board’s instructions for staff to develop a plan that would move relatively few students. It focuses on filling new schools and dealing with overcrowded schools. Most of the students to be moved would be sent to Richland Creek Elementary in Wake Forest, Rolesville Middle and Rolesville High – three new schools in northeastern Wake County.

Board members have called the new plan a “stopgap” measure before a more comprehensive plan is developed for the 2014-15 school year.

But some parents have complained about the reassignments. Others complained that the plan would result in them getting different year-round school options for 2013 if they didn’t want to go to their assigned traditional-calendar schools.

As a result of these concerns, the staff recommended, and the board preliminarily agreed Tuesday, on these changes:

• Dropping all proposed changes in school calendar choices for middle school students, except for those who’d be reassigned to Rolesville Middle.

• Allowing Durant Trails residents to continue to have both Durant Road elementary and middle schools as their year-round options.

• Allowing Bedford at Falls River residents to continue to have Durant Road Elementary as their year-round option.

• Dropping the reassignment of nodes 248.2. 707 and 276 to Rolesville High School.

• Reassigning node 275.3 to Heritage High School instead of Rolesville High.

• Reassigning node 258 from Wakelon Elementary to Rolesville Elementary.

“Parents are being seriously listened to, and changes are happening in the plan based on their input,” outgoing board Chairman Kevin Hill said. “Parents must advocate for their children.”

The staff is also recommending adding Hunter Elementary in Raleigh to the list of schools that would have a full enrollment cap for the rest of the school year. This means that new students who move into the school’s attendance area would be sent to more distant schools that have space.

The final vote on the assignment plan is scheduled for Dec. 11. That’s also the date when the board will officially vote on which Fridays to use for early-release days for the 2013-14 school year.

While some principals had requested moving the early-release days to Wednesdays, Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said they’re not going to recommend that now. She said they’ll study using Wednesdays for the 2014-15 school year.

“Stability is the word of the day here,” Moore said. “We’ve had them on Fridays for the past couple of years now.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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