The question has lingered around eastern Wake County since at least 1959.
On Wednesday night, a group of about 60 educators, parents, elected and civic leaders started trying to find answers to the question of how eastern Wake County students can match their peers in Wake County when it comes to learning and success after high school.
Chris Mitchell, the father of a fifth-grader at Wakelon Elementary in Zebulon, brought with him a document his grandmother had given him. Turns out, Mitchell’s grandfather attended a meeting more than 50 years ago that tried to address much the same question.
Mitchell said he was pleased that Wake County was turning a spotlight on the needs in eastern Wake County schools.
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“It makes me feel good that the school system is looking at things out here. We’ve always been the blacksheep of the Wake County school system,” Mitchell said.
The work group assembled Wednesday night is tasked with making specific recommendations to the Wake County Board of Education it believes will improve student achievement in 11 schools serving Wendell- and Zebulon-area schools.
Much of Wednesday’s work was done in small groups, with school system-assigned group leaders reporting out. Their work was informed by a statistical report provided by Dr. Brad McMillen with the Wake County schools’ data office.
McMillen’s report showed increasing profiency gaps between elementary and middle schoolers and between middle school and high school students.
The data also showed inconsistent performance among the four small schools at East Wake High School. The night before the work group’s meeting, Wake County formally approved a move away from the small-school concept, agreeing to unify the schools beginning next year. The board also approved the hiring of Stacey Alston as the unified school’s new principal.
The groups were asked to review the data looking for strengths and weaknesses and to develop a questions that data managers can research in preparation for the group’s next meeting.
Among the strengths the groups noted were the high participation rates in Advanced Placement courses among high school students and the achievement rates among elementary school students, which hover near county averages.
Weaknesses cited by more than one group included the growing gap in achievement scores between eastern Wake County students and their Wake County peers as the children age and the lack of parental involvement in eastern Wake County schools.
The groups asked for data on kindergarten preparedness, student performance on end-of-grade tests and statistics that show the disparities in socioeconomic factors.
For Mitchell, who’s grandfather tried to tackle the question more than five decades ago, he said he was encouraged by being able to put some facts to perceptions.
“I think this really sheds some light on just how wide the gap is. I’m hoping it will show our school leaders that there is a real need for resources and accountability here in the eastern part of the county,” Mitchell said.
Carol Weeks, a community volunteer who no longer has children in the school system, said she, too, was encouraged by the conversations she heard.
“We had a really diverse group of people at our table and I tink this really puts on the right path. It will take a lot of work, but I got the sense that everyone was really focused on what we can do to help these children succeed,” Weeks said.
The work group will meet once a month for the next four months.
Area Superintendent Ed McFarland encouraged the group members to express their thoughts and concerns openly.
It’s OK to disagree,” McFarland said. “But we want to end this effort with a set of recommendations we can all agree on.”