Eastern Wake News

Knightdale school recs go to Board after almost 6 months

Knightdale High School principal Carla Jernigan-Baker, right, and Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen discuss the summary of the Knightdale Area Education Work Group's recommendations for the Wake school board.
Knightdale High School principal Carla Jernigan-Baker, right, and Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen discuss the summary of the Knightdale Area Education Work Group's recommendations for the Wake school board. mhankerson@newsobserver.com

After five meetings and almost two months of revising and preparing suggestions, the group of about 30 community members tasked with alleviating some of the problems faced by Knightdale schools is ready to present their work to the Wake County Board of Education.

The recommendations were scheduled to be presented at the Board of Education’s work session on March 4, the same day Superintendent James Merrill is expected to present his budget proposal to the school board.

Last week, the group met at Forestville Road Elementary to begin what eastern area superintendent Ed McFarland referred to the hardest part of the process.

“The difficult work begins now,” McFarland told the group.

Few of the groups’ recommendations mentioned needing money immediately, although the group did discuss the need for better fund allocation to the eastern part of the county.

McFarland worked through the recommendations to make sure it accurately reflected what the group discussed in its original meetings, including issues about student assignment, student achievement, Academically or Intellectually Gifted programs and magnet and curriculum enhancement programs. Currently there are no magnet options in Knightdale, although Forestville Road Elementary is a global school and Hodge Road Elementary, East Wake Middle School and Knightdale High School are all STEM schools.

Starting at home

The group created specific recommendations that ranged from lobbying state government for more money, asking the county to reconsider how it allocates funds and even creating an advisory board for the Knightdale schools.

They also found that there were some recurring problems that touched on every identified issue, like parental and community involvement in the schools.

“Education starts at home,” said Brian Mountcastle, parent to two Knightdale students at Lockart Elementary and Knightdale High. “We need to teach the parents education starts at home.”

The work group formed after an independent audit in August 2013 found major problems in instruction and resources in Knightdale schools. With test scores that supported the audit’s claim that Knightdale schools were struggling, the group meet for the first time in October.

The audit noted the lack of involvement, specifically at East Wake Middle School. When the Knightdale Area Education Work Group began looking at student assignment in October, they found out the middle school is actually located outside of its base attendance zone, meaning the students who live closest to the school are not the same students who are assigned to attend the school.

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen pointed out that in some schools, there are some community groups that take the place of Parent Teacher Associations and other parent groups. At Hodge Road Elementary school, he said Green Pines Baptist Church has provided a lot of support PTAs normally provide.

“It’s not the parents (helping the school), it’s the church,” he said.

East Wake Middle’s principal, Nancy Allen, recalled the use of parent liasions in the past. The liasion was a paid position that worked with families to identify needs and get the student and family the needed resources to acheive academic success.

The group also touched on larger issues, like teacher retention and pay and the importance of the county staying involved.

“The community has been working on this for a long time but it’s time for the strategy to come from the school system,” said Shannon Hardy, a teacher and former leader of the Knightdale 100, a group created to advocate for Knightdale schools.

Sense of urgency

Even though the recommendations go to the board this week, McFarland cautioned the group that implementing them and seeing results is a multi-year process.

“(This is a) long-term committment,” he told the group. “(It’s going to be) three to five years to even start the turnaround.”

Even so, Wake County Board of Education vice-chair and the area’s representative, Tom Benton said it shouldn’t discourage the group.

“Even though we talk about a three to five year prcocess, there is a sense of urgency,” he said.

In the county’s most recent round of annual test scores, released in November, no school in Knightdale had a proficiency rate over 50 percent. The proficiency rate measures how many students are performning at or above grade level.

Hodge Road Elementary was the area’s lowest-scoring school, with just 22.9 percent of students performing at or above grade level. Forestville Road Elementary was the highest performing school, with a 44.9 percent proficiency rate.