Cary News

Wake schools may resume reassigning new subdivisions

The Wake County school system may revive a practice in which new subdivisions built near crowded schools would be reassigned to more distant schools that have space.

Wake would target yet-to-be occupied housing developments to reduce the impact on people who already live in the school district.

Last week, student assignment staff identified three future housing developments – Southerlyn in western Cary, Walnut Terrace near downtown Raleigh and the new phases of Traditions at Heritage Wake Forest – that could get new school assignments for the 2014-15 school year.

“I think it’s really important that we step very slowly into this,” Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, told school board members.

It’s not a new approach in Wake. It was used from 1996 to 2008, when the term “spot nodes” was used to refer to small geographic areas, targeted for development, that were given different assignments from their neighbors. At the time, Wake was divided into nodes for assignment purposes. Wake sometimes split up nodes near crowded schools to give the newly created portion a different assignment.

School leaders used spot nodes so that the reassignments primarily affected newcomers instead of current Wake families. But local families who moved into them often complained.

Spot nodes were discontinued as growth slowed after the recession. But with renewed construction in the 153,300-student system, some parents and board members have argued for reviving the policy.

Some parents at Highcroft Drive Elementary say spot nodes are needed to reduce the number of students who will come from new housing developments under construction near the west Cary school. Already at 15 percent over capacity, Highcroft is getting a six-classroom modular unit over the summer.

“We can’t continue to accept a new kid in every class each week,” said Joni Klem, a Highcroft parent. “We’re really crowded.”

What’s proposed

The proposed changes, which Evans calls “assignment of future housing developments” instead of spot nodes, would:

• Reassign Southerlyn from Highcroft Drive Elementary and Mills Park Middle to Turner Creek Elementary and Salem Middle.

• Reassign the new phases of Traditions from Jones Dairy Elementary and Heritage Middle to Richland Creek Elementary and Wake Forest Middle. The first phase of Traditions, which is now occupied, wouldn’t be affected.

• Reassign Walnut Terrace from Olive Chapel Elementary, West Cary Middle and Green Hope High to Washington Elementary, Ligon Middle and Enloe High. Evans said the Walnut Terrace changes are proposed to allow students to attend closer schools and not for crowding reasons.

At the board’s request, Evans will present a list of other future housing developments in western Wake that could be reassigned. She’ll identify developments that are expected to add more students than the assigned schools could handle.

‘Very cautious’

School board member Bill Fletcher, who was on the board when spot nodes were first used, said they’re needed again.

“This is an effective strategy to help all of the folks who come to Wake County have some sense of stability of their assignment and know that they’re not going to be in closets for classrooms,” he said.

School board members have said if the program is brought back, they will have to educate real estate agents so newcomers aren’t surprised.

“We have to be very cautions, as staff was telling us, in how we use this tool,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said.