After a 10-year experiment with a small school model at East Wake High School, the county school system is re-evaluating whether it has had a successful outcome, wanting to end the four school model.
The Wake County Public Schools System Student Achievement Committee had questions for Darryl Hill, Wake County Public Schools performance strategy and analytics director and Matthew Lenard, director of Wake County Public Schools data strategy and analytics during their Jan. 12 meeting.
One major consideration was to consolidate the schools while allowing the most popular programs to continue.
Hill and Lenard interviewed stakeholders and others who were originally involved in the 2005 split.
They found that the initial reasoning behind the split was to fight its low test scores and East Wake’s negative reputation in the district by improvement in teacher confidence, student performance, graduation rates and post-secondary education. Equity within and across the four schools was also a goal.
While the most successful students end up in East Wake School of Health Science, the most successful students, the East Wake School of Integrated Technology has seen the most challenges both with academics and disciplinary issues. The latter also had the lowest graduation rate, far below district average.
Demographically, the School of Integrated Technology has an imbalanced number of minority students and reduced and free lunch compared to the other three schools.
Often, the schools initially gain a demographic balance with the assignment process, but later on, principals often barter with each other to keep students happy, Hill said.
Interviewed stakeholders thought the overall campus lacks a clearly defined vision, and it is difficult for students – with 300-400 students per school – to crossover both academically and socially.
“Leadership turnover may have led to a loss of vision and mission,” Hill said.
Lenard said that the rate of suspensions was a large factor in the 2005 split, and suspensions have dramatically declined. He pointed out that these were already declining before the split, so the split would be hard to prove as a solution.
In addition, parent involvement has declined.
Hill said that in talking with student focus groups, most chose the School of Health Sciences and no students in the focus group requested the School of Integrated Technology as their first choice. However, most were ultimately content with their placement.
Because it is impossible to compare the current schools to a unified campus, experts combined similar county schools, excluding Knightdale High School, to create a synthetic control model of a single EWHS. They then compared that to the performance of the four schools during the past decade.
“The synthetic control model is one of the models that we can get a very close answer for what we would expect had the school not broken up,” Hill said. “We can’t say exactly what would have happened... but it’s our best-guess estimate.”
All four schools and the synthetic model trailed the district average in all subjects studied.
The four came behind the synthetic EWHS in Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, English I and U.S. History. Biology was slightly more successful and the success of physical science was likely affected by a smaller sample size of students.
Although the four school model could continue or the school could consolidate to the EWHS of 2005, Hill and Lenard recommended that the high school begin to merge toward a unified school while maintaining some of the popular programs.
School board vice chairman Tom Benton, who represents District 1 which includes Wendell and Zebulon, questioned whether the difficulty was with the four school model itself, the lack of resources or mission infidelity.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said it could be any of those possibilities.
Next year, EWHS could be unified under one administration, Benton said, as officials strategize and seek community input for a final redesign model.
“I’m worried about that much transition and turbulence,” Benton said. “We need to be careful...what’s the transition plan.”
He said that as schools trend toward personalization nationwide, some of the logistics in the EWHS model did not turn out as originally hoped. He pointed out the difference between success of small academies within one school versus four independent schools, saying that EWHS has found itself somewhere in the middle.
School board member Jim Martin suggested a freshman common experience to assist with a eventual consolidation.
The transition will be discussed in more detail at the school board work session Jan. 20.