Midtown Raleigh News

Uncertainty about new Wake schools leaves families in limbo

When the first round of student placements were announced in March, Michelle Evans found her son C.J. assigned to a school that didn’t yet exist.

As a new school launching on a modular campus, Richland Creek Elementary had no information online to tell Evans whether it would be a good fit for her rising kindergartner. No test scores. No demographics. She didn’t know who his teachers would be.

And only a handful of other students had been assigned there – not nearly enough to fill a school.

“It’s one thing if you got assigned there and that’s it, but we didn’t know whether it would even open,” Evans said. “It was a big problem, being up in limbo for so long.”

Two new elementary schools were originally planned for Wake County this fall. Last week, the Wake County Board of Education voted to delay opening the Abbotts Creek Elementary School in North Raleigh to 2013 because only 24 students applied to go there under the new choice-based student assignment plan.

Richland Creek area overcrowding

Now, the school district is scrambling to fill Richland Creek Elementary in Wake Forest, another modular campus school with just 46 applicants so far, to save it from the same fate.

The district is trying to open Richland Creek as a K-3 school next year to ease overcrowding in a high-growth area, but the uncertain outcome leaves the families assigned to the school in a precarious position until the board’s final decision in June. The school must have at least 100 students to be assigned a principal; the district is aiming for 150 to 200, Chief Transformation Officer Judy Peppler said.

To achieve that goal, the district plans to hold an open house for Richland Creek, inviting parents from around the area. The board has also appointed an experienced principal, Tammie Sexton, who helped launch Wakelon Elementary School on a modular campus off N.C. 97 five years ago.

The impact of a delayed opening is vastly different for the Richland Creek area compared to Abbotts Creek, Peppler said. The schools around Abbotts Creek have about 2,000 empty seats, enough to easily absorb new students who arrive over the summer.

But Richland Creek is located in an area where most schools are near or at capacity. Overcrowding can affect instructional factors like class size.

“The schools are busting at the seams there,” said school board member Chris Malone, whose district covers Wake Forest, at last week’s meeting. “They’ve got to find a way to fill it.”

Abbotts Creek families alerted

At a school board meeting last month, Peppler speculated that Richland Creek’s higher number of applicants could stem from the fact that funding for its permanent building is in place, while Abbotts Creek’s is not.

Closing Abbotts Creek had a “minimal” effect on the seven families with children slated to attend, Peppler said. When the first round of applications was low, staff alerted the families as well as the already-picked principal, Paula Trantham of Millbrook Elementary School, that the school’s future was uncertain.

With last week’s vote, the children were reassigned to other schools on their priority list. The school’s delayed opening saves taxpayers about $275,000 in local funding, Peppler said.

Peppler is optimistic about Richland Creek’s chances of opening. Families who choose the school or are assigned there will like what they find, she said.

“There will be some people who are not necessarily thrilled at first, but all schools in Wake County are good schools,” Peppler said. “Sometimes, people think a school wouldn’t be their choice, but they end up going there and loving the school.”

Not all families are willing to chance it.

Evans nearly chose to move her son out of the public school system entirely, opting instead for East Wake Academy, a charter school. Then the district reassigned C.J. to Sanford Creek Elementary in Rolesville, where he plans to attend this fall.

Evans has mixed emotions about the whole process. Mostly, she’s just glad to get it settled.

“It’s hard not being able to tell your kid where they’re going to go to school,” Evans said.