In 20 years, Southeast Raleigh High School has gone from being a state-of-the-art school to a campus with frequent leadership changes that’s trying to reinvent its image.
Southeast Raleigh High is getting its fifth principal in six years and a new magnet school theme this fall. Amid all the uncertainty, parents and students are asking the Wake County school system to provide more stability to their predominantly African-American high school.
“My question to you is, do our brown children matter to you?” Southeast Raleigh High parent Dawn Blagrove told school board members Tuesday. “If they do, then reflect it in your policy and give our children what they need that is proven by academic research, which is stability.
“We need administrative stability. We demand it and if you don’t give it to us, we will take it to the streets.”
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Blagrove was among two dozen parents and students from the high school who showed up at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Board member Keith Sutton, whose district includes the school, held an impromptu meeting with them.
“Clearly we are concerned and our goal is to stabilize leadership at the school, to stabilize programming at the school as well and reassure parents, faculty, staff and students that we do have a clear vision, direction and goals for Southeast,” Sutton said in an interview Wednesday.
Enrollment at Southeast Raleigh High School has dropped from 2,200 to about 1,500.
Southeast Raleigh High opened in 1997 boasting the most advanced technology in the district. Enrollment would grow to nearly 2,200 students with nearly 500 magnet school applications from families across Wake who wanted to give the school a try.
Southeast Raleigh High currently offers a leadership and technology magnet theme with academies in biomedical science, engineering and information technology and cybersecurity. The school’s Robodogs team is the oldest and most decorated robotics squad in North Carolina.
“We have something great,” Southeast Raleigh High parent Dorothy Barco said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “Stop hiding us. Stop fighting us. Be for us. Help us.”
But while the school has passionate supporters, Wake school leaders note how the number of magnet applications has dropped to 115, enrollment is down to 1,517 students, and 61 percent of the students are eligible for federally subsidized lunches, which is double the district’s average for high schools.
The changes have occurred even though the magnet program is supposed to help fill Southeast Raleigh High and diversify what’s now an enrollment that’s 67 percent African-American and 21 percent Hispanic.
The school, located off Rock Quarry Road, is in a largely minority community. But when the school was drawing more magnet school applicants from around the county, white students accounted for a much larger percentage of the enrollment.
In an effort to boost enrollment, Southeast Raleigh is switching to the new magnet theme of University Connections: School of Design, Art and Engineering. The theme includes topics such as graphic, fashion and architectural design and visual and performing arts such as theater, culinary and broadcasting.
The engineering program includes areas dealing with aerospace, civil, electrical, mechanical, biomedical and network engineering.
Parents and students are worried the programs they’ve come to love will disappear or be watered down in the new theme.
“The program lured a lot of great students to the school who are amazingly passionate about it,” said Donna Kneeley, whose children make the long commute from Wake Forest to attend the school. “But we’re losing the passion with all the changes.”
Parents and students say going through yet another leadership change is adding to their fears. Wake swapped principals between Southeast Raleigh High and Zebulon Middle.
Candis Jones is leaving Southeast Raleigh to lead Zebulon Middle. Stephanie Smith is leaving Zebulon Middle to lead Southeast Raleigh.
Jones became the principal at Southeast Raleigh in 2014. Before her, the school saw three principals since 2011.
The fact that Southeast Raleigh is on its fifth principal in the last six years can only mean that either you do not care about the education of my children or you do not care about the success of Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School.
Dawn Blagrove, parent
Caleb Barco, who graduated from Southeast Raleigh in 2015, said his was the “forgotten class” because seniors had three principals in four years. He said he wants his younger siblings at the school to avoid the same fate.
“You can do the wrong thing or do the right thing, and granting stability to this school is the right thing to do,” Barco, now a rising junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, told school board members.
Blagrove, the parent, noted that she had been at board meetings three years ago raising concerns then about the lack of stability.
“The fact that Southeast Raleigh is on its fifth principal in the last six years can only mean that either you do not care about the education of my children or you do not care about the success of Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School,” she said. “I don’t want to believe that is true.”
Sutton, the school board member, said some of the school’s leadership changes were beyond the district’s control as one principal retired and another was recruited to work in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
Parents and students, though, say they’re concerned that no one is listening to them.
“Your decisions are impacting us as students and the education that we have,” Jordan Parrott, a rising senior, told school board members. “I just want you to know that we care about the school and we care about what’s happening to it and I just hope that you guys can see that and at least have some care.”
Sutton said a message he heard clearly on Tuesday is the need to improve communication. He’s offered to have regular meetings with parents, students and staff at the school moving forward.
“They want to see things being addressed so that they’re being heard.” Sutton said.