A new proposal for filling Wake County’s schools is focused on moving as few students as possible as opposed to tackling the growing number of high-poverty and racially isolated schools.
Student assignment staffers presented Tuesday the first draft of the 2016-17 school enrollment plan that’s focused mainly on filling five new schools opening next year in Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs. In a community where parents complain about children being moved around, staff said they tried to limit which neighborhoods are affected.
In the past, the opening of a school often resulted in changes to many other schools like a line of falling dominoes. But Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said her staff focused on providing stability for families in North Carolina’s largest school system.
“We weren’t planning on any kind of domino effect,” Evans said.
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But Evans said it’s too soon to say how many students could be moved. Last year, the school board approved a plan that moved 2,734 students for the 2015-16 school year.
Evans told school board members how the proposal has more students attending closer schools, reduces inefficient bus routes and tries to keep schools from being too full or too empty. What got less mention is how the proposal would promote the fourth guideline in the student assignment policy of trying to keep schools from having too many low-income or low-achieving students.
“We used to focus on the diversity pillar,” Evans said. “But we focus on all four pillars now.”
In the last seven years, the numbers of high-poverty schools and schools where black and Hispanic students make up at least 70 percent of the enrollment have both doubled.
The Democratic school board majority has left in place assignment changes made in 2010 and 2011 by the former Republican majority, changes that shifted low-income students to schools closer to home. The current board has focused on promoting stability in school assignments. That has meant largely leaving intact old assignments based on diversity, while taking no steps to assign students to stem the growing number of low-income schools.
The proposal would lead to several changes for Raleigh schools:
▪ Brier Creek Elementary School would eliminate a portion of its current attendance zone to create a base for the new Pleasant Grove Elementary School. Students who live south of U.S. 70 and north of Interstate 540 would attend Brier Creek Elementary.
▪ Students at Brier Creek and Sycamore Creek elementary schools would attend the new Pine Hollow Middle School. All three schools operate on the year-round calendar.
▪ Brier Creek Elementary students who are currently assigned to Panther Creek High School would be reassigned to Leesville Road High School.
▪ Pleasant Grove Elementary, a traditional-calendar school, would feed into Leesville Road Middle School. Pleasant Grove students currently assigned to Daniels Middle School would not be affected.
▪ Some Leesville Road Middle School students would go to Hilburn Academy, a K-8 school. The reassignment would create a middle school base for Hilburn and free up space at Leesville Road Middle.
▪ Students who live in the Barton’s Creek Bluffs neighborhood, which has been split for years between two elementary and middle schools, would attend Sycamore Creek Elementary and Pine Hollow Middle.
▪ Beaverdam Elementary, a new school, would enroll students from the base attendance zones of four schools: Wilburn and River Bend elementary schools in Raleigh and Lockhart and Forestville Road elementary schools in Knightdale.
▪ Beaverdam Elementary would become the traditional-calendar option for Wilburn Elementary. Currently, Wilburn students are assigned to Knightdale schools for traditional-calendar options.
▪ To fill empty space at Baileywick Elementary School, some students at Jeffreys Grove Elementary would be assigned to Baileywick.
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▪ To ease overcrowding at Heritage High School, students zoned for Rolesville Middle would attend Rolesville High. School staff say the change would help Rolesville High better utilize its building, which opened in 2012.
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▪ Parts of Conn Elementary School’s base attendance zone would be reassigned to ease crowding. Students who live northeast of Capital Boulevard would be sent to Underwood Elementary, and students northwest of Capital Boulevard would attend Partnership Elementary. In both cases, students would be able to walk to school, which was something parents have pushed for in the past, Evans said.
▪ Some Hunter Elementary School students would be reassigned to Washington Elementary to fill Washington’s dwindling ranks. Washington used to pull hundreds of students from Walnut Terrace, but enrollment decreased when the city rebuilt the neighborhood. Washington Elementary is a magnet school, so those seats could be adjusted to allow for more Hunter students.
▪ Staff attempted to streamline calendar options for students in downtown Raleigh. The change, which would affect a minimal number of students, would make busing easier, Evans said.
▪ Some students at Brooks Elementary School would be reassigned to Carroll Middle School. The change would keep the calendar consistent from elementary to middle school.
Parents can view and comment on the draft assignment proposal at the district’s website, www.wcpss.net. The second draft could be presented Sept. 15 with the third draft on Oct. 20. The school board could approve the plan on Nov. 17.