The opening of Wake County’s first new year-round school since 2012 is drawing charges from parents that the nontraditional calendar is being forced on them and their children.
Pine Hollow Middle School is scheduled to open in July in northwest Raleigh with attendance lines stretching from the border of Raleigh and Durham to the border of Wake Forest and Granville County. The year-round school will draw students from four traditional-calendar middle schools in Cary and North Raleigh.
School assignment staff say the proposed moves in the 2016-17 student assignment plan ensure that families at three year-round elementary schools can keep the same calendar through middle school. But parents who oppose the assignment to Pine Hollow say the move forces them onto a calendar that doesn’t work for their families.
“We want the ability to choose to be on a year-round – if we want to – and not be forced into it,” northwest Raleigh parent Sara Van Asch told Wake County school board members last week.
Van Asch was among a group of Brier Creek families who attended a student assignment public hearing to balk at being moved from Mills Park Middle School in Cary. They were joined by families on the other side of North Raleigh who don’t want to leave Wakefield Middle School or West Millbrook Middle School.
It’s the latest chapter in the long-running debate over how to fill year-round schools. After “mandatory year-round schools” became a contentious issue in the mid- to late 2000s, the school board has been cutting back on the number of year-round schools.
Pine Hollow is the only school funded from the 2013 school bond construction issue that’s opening on a year-round calendar. The school is supposed to address the absence of year-round middle schools in northwest Raleigh.
In year-round schools, students give up the extended summer break in favor of three-week breaks at intervals during the school year. Supporters say year-round students don’t feel as burned out and are less likely to forget material over the summer.
“You can have all the traditional,” Misty Carpetto, a parent at Pleasant Union Elementary School in North Raleigh, told the school board last week. “We want year-round. We’re thrilled at Pleasant Union.”
It was parents such as Carpetto whose lobbying efforts helped persuade assignment staff to assign Pleasant Union students to Pine Hollow. The first draft of the assignment plan released in August only had Brier Creek Elementary and Sycamore Creek Elementary, a pair of northwest Raleigh year-round schools, feed into Pine Hollow.
Wake has made it more of a priority in recent years to assign families to elementary and middle schools that are on the same calendar. Some parents have complained that the lack of a K-8 calendar match means juggling different schedules.
“Taking families who live in the Brier Creek area and giving them a base assignment in the northern area is a logical assignment,” school board member Susan Evans said. “I understand that some of those folks don’t want a year-round middle school. The reality for many of those folks is that their base elementary school is a year-round school, and we’re trying to provide them a calendar match.”
But some families dislike the year-round schedule for a variety of reasons. A frequently cited reason is that attending Pine Hollow will split families who also have children at traditional-calendar high schools.
“My daughter is a junior at Panther Creek High School,” Brier Creek parent Maureen Jones told the board. “She’s on a traditional calendar. You’re telling me that I now have to go to a year-round calendar again, splitting the family up. Vacations are impacted, friendships, sports.”
Brian Fetzer, a parent in the Ethan’s Glen community in North Raleigh, told the board he has kids at Wakefield Middle School and Wakefield High School.
“We’ve waited six years to have all the kids on the same schedule for spring break, for summer,” he said. “I do not want year-round.”
Lesley Nager, a Brier Creek parent, broke into tears at the public hearing at the prospect of the assignment to Pine Hollow leading to more years of her children being on different calendars.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Nager said. “I’m completely at my wits’ end.”
The Brier Creek families live closer to Pine Hollow than families who live in Pleasant Union’s attendance area. Robb Malone, a parent in the Sutherland community in Wake Forest, said sending his kids to Pine Hollow means a 22-mile trip past four closer middle schools.
“These schools were built for children in the Leesville area and should be populated by children in that community – not kids bused in from other municipalities in Wake County,” Malone told the board.
School officials say the Pine Hollow assignment isn’t forced year-round because families can apply to Leesville Road Middle School if they want to go to a traditional-calendar school. But approval isn’t guaranteed, and parents worry not many will get accepted into Leesville because it’s at 165 percent of its planned enrollment capacity.
“Year-round simply doesn’t work for every family, and with this proposal what Wake County schools is doing is you’re not giving us a true calendar option,” said Van Asch, the Brier Creek parent.
The families have suggested alternatives such as letting their children stay at their current middle school, guaranteeing them seats at Leesville, offering them a different traditional-calendar option that has more space and making Pine Hollow an optional assignment.
Evans, the school board member, said it’s difficult to leave the Brier Creek families at Mills Park given that the school is so overcrowded that it’s on an enrollment cap that prevents some families who live near the Cary school from attending.
But Evans said she has asked assignment staff to look into whether Leesville Middle is a legitimate calendar option for Pine Hollow. She said she’s also asked about the impact of making Pine Hollow the calendar option as opposed to the base school for those families.
“There is certainly no intention on our board’s part or the staff’s part to force people to go to a year-round school they don’t want to attend,” Evans said. “We’re striving for a better balance.”
The school board is supposed to consider the feedback from parents at a Nov. 17 work session. A vote is scheduled for Dec. 1.
“I heard the parents’ concerns,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said. “We’ve worked hard to align calendars, and that’s our intent. We have work yet to do on the proposal, and staff is getting us more information.”