To begin community-based work on local schools, the Knightdale Area Education Work Group announced last week Melise Mountcastle will lead the next major phase of the group’s work.
Melise Mountcastle is the wife of Brian Mountcastle, who is the Democratic candidate running against Chris Malone for the 35th North Carolina House seat.
The Mountcastles have two children in Knightdale schools; a daughter in high school and a son who is getting ready to leave Lockhart Elementary and move on to East Wake Middle School.
Melise Mountcastle said she volunteers regularly at schools and has a solid grasp on some of the things the schools needed, despite not being part of the work group’s original effort, which included identifying some of the challenges Knightdale schools faced.
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Brian Mountcastle was part of the group through the entire process.
“(Volunteering) has really given me insight,” Melise Mountcastle said. “I do see a void, which is a common theme of the group.”
Eastern Area Superintendent Ed McFarland said Melise Mountcastle’s responsibility will be to make sure the community-based work begins. The group created recommendations for Wake County Public Schools and the community during their first phase of work that begin in the fall of 2013.
According to recommendations from the group, Melise Mountcastle will be required to organize meetings, secure small amounts of funding from community sources and create several community groups .
First through, Melise Mountcastle said she wants to meet with principals of Knightdale schools, a task complicated by the fact that three of the six schools in the town are slated to get new leadership in the coming months.
“Every school has different needs and needs something different from the community,” she said.
Community recommendations from the group included reinstating a parent liason program, paid for by partnerships with the community. The group also suggested creating a Knightdale Area Parent Teacher Community Association.
The group’s original recommendations also included working with Knightdale Parks and Recreation to include academic programs in their youth program offerings.
Moving forward at the county level
While the community work is just really beginning to take off, McFarland said the county has already taken steps to fulfill some of the recommendations proposed by the group.
In addition to money put aside for the group in the school system’s proposed budget, Superintendent James Merill also called for an additional $1.75 million for at-risk, low-performing schools. That money would give more financial resources to schools who need it rather than relying on traditional formula-based budgeting.
Schools who receive that money would have the power to decide where in the school it would be best used, McFarland said.
He said there are several grants in the works to help with academic enrichment and those grants are not just for Knightdale schools – some will extend into other eastern area schools and some will be county-wide.
And while the group wrestled with the question of whether Knightdale schools need a magnet option, McFarland said right now, there are no plans to bring a magnet to Knightdale.
“Kids are goign to come to a school if it’s a world-class education,” he said, agreeing with some group members’ ideas that a magnet may not be the answer.
In addition to the county and community efforts, McFarland said he has been working behind the scenes to better prepare administration in Knightdale schools.
Despite two outgoing principals (Nancy Allen at East Wake Middle School and Carla Jernigan-Baker at Knightdale High School) and an interim principal at Knightdale Elementary, McFarland said the work at schools can and should continue.
“(I advise new principals) to sit back and take in the temperature at a new school,” he said. School Improvement Plans will also be a key resource for the new principals, who haven’t been named, McFarland said.
Those documents, created by principals annually, will be one the keys to deciding how to spend extra money, if Merrill’s original proposed budget is passed.
McFarland said he is working to get permanent principals in place as soon as possible. At last week’s work group meeting, he said he has a permanent principal for Knightdale Elementary “in the wings,” and he is working on gathering feedback from staff, parents and students of EWMS and Knightdale High to move forward with finding candidates for those schools.
“I need to get that taken care of for the fall to make sure we’re ready for the next part of work,” he said.
Last week’s meeting was the last of the full group for the school year. They will reconvene quarterly when the school year begins again.