Much has been known about efforts to refocus the educational process among Knightdale-area schools over the past year. A publicly-appointed task force made up of educators, parents and county administrators held meetings, brainstormed ideas and pored over data. Out of that effort came a raft of recommendations delivered to a school board committee early last week.
Not so much in the sunlight, efforts have been underway to re-assess the effectiveness of the small school model at East Wake High School. And, yet, out of that that same meeting last Monday, school board members heard a recommendation that the small-school concept be scrapped in favor of a universal school with tracks akin to the “academies” now in place at other high schools – including Knightdale – across Wake County.
While it is always – always – a good idea to review the effectiveness of educational delivery systems, we worry that not enough feedback is available to school board members to make a sound decision. And, while we don’t defend the small-school concept here – it may, indeed, not be the best method for teaching students – we do argue that some of the justification for the this recommendation is questionable.
In part, the recommendation is based on the performance of the East Wake schools as compared to a so-called synthetic school, a creation of researchers that’s intended to create a comparable model to compare the East Wake small schools against. But the fact is – and the report points this out – there is no school in Wake County comparable to East Wake. The creation of a made-up school based on pieces of the whole from other Wake County schools is a reach for most people to expect that East Wake is getting a fair comparison.
Anecdotal evidence in the recommendation, culled from parents, students and teachers, seems to suggest that the small school concept has been well-received. Students and parents report strong relationships with teachers and the familiarity with students by teachers has long been touted as one of the benefits of the small schools model.
It also appears to us that some of the goals set by school and county leaders at the time the small school concept was created may have been unrealistic. Among those goals is one that calls for graduation rates of 95 percent at each of the schools. None of the schools has reached that level and, in fact, it’s pie in the sky territory for nearly every other high school in Wake County. In fact, just in the past few weeks have school board members started to consider 95 percent graduation rates as a goal for other schools in Wake County.
What isn’t discussed in great detail is the financial cost of operating four small schools. The report notes that a Bill and Melinda Gates grant that provided seed money for the small school experiment has expired. Presumably the ongoing costs paid for with that grant now fall to the county to fund. That can be a challenge for any school system, even a well-funded school system like Wake County’s.
School board members will revisit the issue at their January 20 meeting and all indications are that the small schools experiment at East Wake will die a quick death at that meeting. We hope, however, school board members will dig deeper into the data, work harder to get input from the affected communities in Wendell and Zebulon and make sure that any decision to stop the program isn’t just related to financial pressures associated with a unique set of circumstances.