Wake school board discusses new assignment plan

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

— Wake County school board members made it clear Friday that they want to be involved and informed in the development of a new assignment plan that will guide where students go to school in the next few years.

School assignment staff will develop a plan to fill the 16 new schools that will be built from the $810 million school construction bond issue approved by voters in October. Board members said they don’t want to be surprised by a multi-year plan that will change where thousands of students go to school.

“You’re going to have to take me out of here kicking and screaming before we ever again have a situation where proposed attendance maps go live on our website before this board has seen it,” school board member Susan Evans said to administrators.

Evans was referencing to how board members were upset when Superintendent Tony Tata had, shortly before he was fired in 2012, released assignment maps before showing them to the board.

Administrators will present draft versions of the plan for both board and public comment before a final plan is approved later this year. The new three-year plan would go into effect in the 2015-16 school year.

Student assignment has long been a contentious issue in the growing school district. Wake annually reassigned thousands of students to fill new schools, ease crowding at existing schools and promote diversity in school enrollments.

The last three-year plan approved by the school board in 2009 moved 24,654 students and produced a parental uproar.

In lieu of reassignment in the 2012-13 school year, Wake went to a choice-based plan in which families requested where they wanted to go to a school.

Wake dropped the choice plan for this school year, returning to a system where students are assigned to schools based on their address. Fewer than 1,500 students were moved to fill three new schools this school year.

No students are being moved for the 2014-15 school year because the new plan is being developed.

Managing growth

The assignment policy is based on the “pillars” of stability, proximity, operational efficiency and student achievement. The challenge facing the district is balancing these sometimes competing goals.

Administrators held a five-hour “student assignment seminar” on Friday, going over the various ways the district manages growth. Topics included growth projections, locating new school sites, relocating mobile classrooms, enrollment caps, changing school calendars and the redistricting process.

Administrators also briefed the board on a discontinued practice used in high-growth areas called “spot nodes.” In this approach, Wake assigns all or part of a subdivision where no lots have been sold yet to a different school than the adjoining subdivisions.

“We’ve got a whole bunch to do,” school board member Kevin Hill said. “Today, for me, was invigorating because we were talking about something that we’re supposed to talk about.”

At the next seminar, administrators will talk about the achievement pillar. The policy says that assignment plans should consider factors such as minimizing high concentrations of low-performing and low-income students at schools.

School board member Jim Martin said board members shouldn’t forget the words they heard Thursday from those who had helped racially integrate the school system in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Let’s not forget racial issues, equity issues,” Martin said. “That is part of what makes a strong school system, and we can not be afraid to tackle that reality.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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