Wake County school board members will spend the weekend mulling over how much they’re willing to risk angering the community to promote equity and diversity across schools.
School administrators asked board members on Saturday to consider questions such as if they’re willing to do more to balance school enrollments when the public wants neighborhood schools. Another potentially unpopular question the board was asked to consider is if it’s willing to take resources from high-performing schools to give to low-performing schools.
The answers to those questions will be debated by the board on Monday, with staff looking for what to do next.
“On Monday night we’ll come back to start giving some concrete suggestions to staff about the directions that the board is wanting them to go,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton.
Saturday’s discussions were part of a two-day retreat taking place as Wake is trying to implement a strategic plan to raise the quality of education and to get 95 percent of students graduating high school by 2020. The graduation rate now is 86.1 percent.
To help the board, staff laid out Saturday what’s being done to promote equity in the form of school enrollments, innovative programs and helping to turn around and fund schools that need extra help.
Providing integrated school enrollments has long been contentious in Wake. The district uses a mixture of assigning some low-income students to more distant schools and encouraging suburban students to attend magnet schools in Raleigh to help balance schools.
But overall, the district is busing fewer students for diversity than before 2009.
“Just blending of the populations at the schools alone is not going to be a solution,” school board member Susan Evans said during the retreat. “It’s important. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t think it’s important, but for a number of different reasons I don’t think it would be the total solution.”
Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement, told the board that busing students for diversity hurts transportation efficiency. Additionally, she said the growing amount of traffic makes it harder for western Wake families to send their children to magnet schools in downtown Raleigh.
One of the issues board members were asked to think about heading into Monday is what commitments the board should make to balance diversity across schools.
Board members were also asked to think about whether there’s a need for small/innovative schools in Wake and, if so, what purpose they would serve to advance educational equity.
Evans said offering more small/innovative schools could be a key part of helping the district be competitive with other school options.
“The other thing that we’ve got to continue to think smart about is how we maintain our market share and how we remain attractive to those families who can make other choices to go to private schools and charter schools,” Evans said.
Equity is also an issue in the level of support that should be provided to “focus schools,” those that Wake says need additional assistance.
Wake has already made some changes in recent years, such as providing more intervention teachers to schools with low test scores. Nurses are also now less likely to be in affluent schools because the district wants them more at high-poverty schools where families have less access to outside medical care.
But going forward, administrators asked the board to consider questions such as whether “focus schools” should get resources that are diverted from high-performing schools.