With 20/20 hindsight, Wake County school board members are now saying it was “predictable” that the new Vernon Malone College and Career Academy opened with only 131 students this school year.
As noted in today’s article, Vernon Malone opened at 28 percent of the original capacity this year for sophomores and juniors. Board members are saying that the enrollment total isn’t shocking because of the decision made in 2012 to only offer grades 10 through 12 at the school.
“I was not shocked at the numbers that you actually have enrolled,” school board vice chairman Tom Benton said at the Sept. 11 student achievement committee meeting.
“I think that was predictable in hindsight that you were not going to get the numbers that you want,” Benton continued. “If you’re going to go after kids in a serious way and parents who want their kids in the exciting program, you need to do it as they’re leaving eighth-grade because if they’re in that ninth-grade and they’re having any success, they’re not going to move.”
Benton said he didn’t press for a change after he joined the board in 2013 because it was too late to get involved in the grade configuration.
“I agree with you that 10-12 was the worst of all options,” added school board member Jim Martin. “It was completely predictable that this is what we would have because that transition is impossible.”
As this 2012 blog post shows, there was a split on the board about whether to open it as a comprehensive high school with grades 9 through 12 or just with grades 11 and 12. On one side, you had board members like Martin, Susan Evans, Debra Goldman and John Tedesco who preferred the 11-12 model because they didn’t think that it was fair to ask eighth-grade students to decide on applying to a CTE high school.
To help resolve the split which was occurring at the same time the board was fighting over the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata, school administrators proposed opening with grades 10 through 12. That grade configuration was unanimously approved Oct. 30, 2012.
“In terms of history, what I will say to you is we talked about 9-12, we talked about 11-12,” Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, said at this month’s student achievement committee meeting. “There was energy on both sides of that and we ended up – really it was almost a compromise of – 10-12.”
As this handout shows, what administrators want to do now is add ninth grade next year to help increase enrollment. Officials think they’ll have a much easier time persuading rising freshmen to apply.
Since two board members weren’t present at the Sept. 11 meeting, the proposal will be presented to the full board at an October work session.
Martin still backs an 11-12 model, which would have the school operate on a half-day program. Students would spend half the day at their base high school and be transported to and from Vernon Malone for the technical courses.
Martin acknowledged that there are enough board votes now to back a 9-12 model. During the committee meeting, Benton and board member Zora Felton, who also wasn’t on the board in 2012, said they back the 9-12 model.
Evans said she’s willing to support a 9-12 model now because the school will still accept applications from rising sophomores and juniors. They’re expecting attrition from students leaving to allow for openings in the upper grades.
“Back during the initial conversation about what grade levels should be at this school a couple of years ago, I was one of the ones that pushed against the nine through 12 model just because I didn’t see how a rising ninth grader could have a clue whether they wanted to come to a school like this,” Evans said. “But if we feel like we can make a more targeted effort to the eighth graders, I’m certainly willing to give it a try.
Based on what I heard you said today, we’re not going to shut it down to 10th and 11th graders. It’s just that we’re going to open it up to ninth graders as well. My thoughts on that is – given my earlier reservations – how will we know until we give it a try? So I will just say I’m willing to compromise.”
But Martin said he wants a market analysis done on which model to use before a decision is made.
“I think I know where the vote is going to go, but I don’t feel like we’ve done the leg work to know whether or not this is a long-term wise decision,” Martin said of the 9-12 model. “I think we could do more work.
The 10-12 was, like you said, a compromise because they couldn’t get agreement. It wasn’t because it was thought out that this is a good strategy. What I’m looking for is a thought out, good strategy as opposed to well this didn’t work quite right, let’s try the next thing. What I’m looking for is a thoughtful strategy.”
Moore said there’s a future in Wake for both a 9-12 and 11-12 programs. But Moore said that the building is better designed to handle a 9-12 model than an 11-12 program.
“We do have this school and we do have students and a partnership and a program and investments that I believe a 9-12 model is better suited for than a 11-12 model – for this school,” Moore said.