Education

August 17, 2014

Wake schools wrestle with growth

The Wake County school board is considering ways to ease crowding at three schools in Cary, including the possibility of converting two of them from a traditional school year to a year-round calendar – a move that would upset many parents.

The Wake County school board is considering ways to ease crowding at three schools in Cary, including the possibility of converting two of them from a traditional school year to a year-round calendar – a move that would upset many parents.

But the board is also looking at a host of alternatives. They include adding more modular classrooms, assigning students from housing developments still on the drawing board to other schools, and reducing the schools’ attendance areas, among other measures.

“We’re going to look at all the options,” said school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner.

The possibility of converting two Cary schools – Mills Park Elementary and Mills Park Middle – from a traditional 10-month calendar to a multi-track, year-round calendar was discussed at a recent meeting of the school board’s Facilities Committee. But no consensus emerged, Kushner said.

“Personally, I’m hoping we will be able to avoid that,” said board member Susan Evans, who represents Cary.

Evans said that if the two Mills Park schools are switched to year-round calendars, “We will have no traditional schools west of Highway 55.” In addition, she said, “it wreaks a lot of havoc on families” when you switch calendars.

The committee also discussed converting Alston Ridge Elementary, also in Cary, from a single-track year-round schedule to a multi-track year-round calendar. A multi-track school operates on four separate, staggered tracks – making maximum use of the school’s capacity.

Also in the mix when considering the overcrowding in Cary are schools that haven’t opened yet. The new Pine Hollow Middle School in northwest Raleigh and two elementary schools in western Wake are scheduled to open for the 2016-2017 school year.

“We need to really pull back and look at the full scope of ... what capacity we have in that area,” Kushner said. “That has to be part of the decision we make.”

Going traditional

At the same time, the school board is also considering converting two schools that offer classes year-round – Wakefield Elementary in North Raleigh and Ballentine Elementary in Fuquay-Varina – to a traditional 10-month school calendar. Those schools are below capacity and therefore don’t need the increased student capacity afforded by a year-round schedule.

Converting those two schools was supported by board members who attended the Facilities Committee meeting, according to school officials, but no vote was taken.

The school board is expected to vote on these student capacity issues at its Sept. 16 meeting, with any decisions going into effect in the 2015-2016 school year. In the meantime, it’s seeking feedback from parents.

“We are still gaining community input,” Kushner said. “I don’t want to convey that we have our minds made up.”

Community meetings are being planned, although the dates haven’t been scheduled, said spokesman Tim Simmons. In addition, parents can weigh in on the school district’s website.

Mandatory conversions of schools from a traditional calendar to a year-round calendar have been controversial in the past. So it makes sense that the possibility of conversion at the Mills Park elementary and middle schools has sparked parents to post impassioned comments on the website.

Parents speak out

Of the more than 40 parents who had commented on future plans for Mills Park Elementary as of late Sunday afternoon, those who opposed conversion to a year-round school out-numbered supporters nearly 3-1.

Opponents contend that switching to a year-round calendar would play havoc with family schedules and require them to shell out thousands of dollars more for child care.

On the other hand, Chris Fulmer, who has two children who graduated from Wakefield Elementary, and a 2-year-old who eventually will attend the school, would be delighted if that school was switched to a traditional calender.

“It doesn’t make sense for it to be on a year-round calender, because they just don’t have enough students enrolled there,” he said.

Currently, scheduling vacations with extended-family members who live out of state is extremely difficult, he said.

Moreover, he added, “there are a lot of activities that aren’t scheduled year-round. Summer camp, for example.”

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