New schools mark beginning of Wake's academic year

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comAugust 25, 2013 

Wake County’s traditional-calendar schools start the year Monday with a new superintendent, three new magnet schools and a new $75 million high school.

Meanwhile, a new student-information system will get a test in all 115 North Carolina public school districts.

Wake’s two new elementary magnets are Green and Fox Road, and Carroll is the new middle-school magnet. Rolesville is the new high school, built on a new design that breaks the school into sections designed to make the large school more welcoming and navigable for students. And it’s all taking place under new superintendent James Merrill, a former Wake administrator who has returned to Wake from heading the Virginia Beach city schools.

The new information system is called PowerSchool, billed as a data system that controls everything from bus routes to attendance records to grades.

The statewide rollout is a first for Pearson School Systems, a New York-based technology company that created PowerSchool. While it’s been in other systems nationally, PowerSchool has never been used for a district as large as Wake or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said Philip Price, technology chief for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“It’s huge,” Price said of the transition, which replaces the former system known as NC WISE.

PowerSchool’s features

DPI worked with Pearson, Public Consulting Group and Truenorthlogic, as it introduced Home Base, the parent system of PowerSchool.

Home Base provides digital tools and learning resources for local educators, students and parents at all schools in the 115 local school districts and public charter schools in North Carolina.

According to a DPI statement, PowerSchool has updated security features, will do a better job of connecting schools to students and their families and will produce data to help teachers develop better instruction. Year-round schools began using PowerSchool on July 8, and traditional calendar schools, most of which start back Monday, will do likewise.

“The old student information system was not up-to-date or sensitive to contemporary needs of teachers, parents and students,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said. “We do not need to waste resources in patching a system that would no longer meet our needs. As with any new system, we expect there will be learning curves, but the Home Base system will be very positive for parents and others.”

Goal: on time and safe

After last year’s rough start of the traditional-calendar year, Wake County has placed a premium on having buses run on time and to the right destinations.

Wake has posted detailed routes for traditional-calendar schools are posted online at www.wcpss.net/routes.

Parents of bus riders can call the customer service telephone line at 919-805-3030. Callers can use an automated telephone service with prompts for appropriate information, but those with emergency situations will receive immediate assistance.

Administrators say the best way for parents to reach Wake schools is online, where they can ask questions about bus routes, report problems including missing items, and more. The online form is at www.wcpss.net/bus-support.

The state school system is asking motorists to watch out for school zones, to stay alert and to use caution at school bus stops.

For more tips visit: www.ncbussafety.org.

More changes

In other Triangle systems:

• East Cary Middle School put a pilot program for digital tablets into full swing this August. The school over the last few weeks has rolled out Amplify-brand devices to the last of its approximately 325 sixth graders. The school has been testing News Corp.’s tablet-based learning system free-of-charge since spring; if the school system doesn’t buy into the program, the pilot will expire at the end of September.

• Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools is opening a new school, Northside Elementary, 350 Caldwell St. in Chapel Hill.

When completed, Northside Elementary School will meet gold-level LEED certification as a result of its environmental features and sustainable construction practices. Architectural elements from the surrounding community have been incorporated into the school’s design. Moseley Architects, designers of Carrboro High School, are the architects for the project.

• After years of preparation, Smithfield-Selma High School in Johnston County starts its International Baccalaureate program this year. The IB program is an internationally standardized curriculum that high school students can take in their junior and senior years. Smithfield-Selma is the IB school for the entire county.

Reporters Andrew Kenney, Mark Schulz, Paula Seligson and Ann Doss Helms, of the Charlotte Observer, contributed to this article.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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