Midtown Raleigh News

New Rolesville Middle School opening Monday

After years of delays, Rolesville Middle School will finally open Monday as the Wake County school system’s newest middle school.

More than 500 students are expected to walk through the doors of Rolesville Middle, which will stand out among the district’s middle schools for its athletics fields and biotechnology electives. The opening comes two years after it was originally scheduled to open as questions about funding put the project behind schedule.

“I’m looking forward to the first day,” said Dhedra Lassiter, who left her position as principal of Heritage Middle School to run Rolesville Middle. “After all the planning, I’m looking forward to working with the kids again.”

The school was originally supposed to open in 2010. But county commissioners accused the school system of paying too much for the site on Burlington Mills Road near U.S. 401. The town of Rolesville stepped in to pay part of the cost for buying the land and upgrading the athletic facilities. But the delay acquiring the site pushed the opening to 2011.

The opening was delayed another year because of the recession. Funding for the $44.3 million school comes from a bond referendum approved by voters in 2006. But the county held off on selling the bonds because of concerns that the poor economy would increase borrowing costs.

One benefit of the delay is that Rolesville’s financial intervention means the school will be one of only a handful of middle schools in the district that will have lights for its football field. Rolesville is also helping with the athletic maintenance as part of an agreement that will allow community residents to use the fields during nonschool hours.

“This is a true community partnership,” Lassiter said.

In addition to pitching the athletic fields to prospective students, Lassiter is also touting that Rolesville will be the only middle school in Wake to offer biotechnology electives. Being a former science teacher, Lassiter said she jumped at the offer from the school system to host the biotechnology program.

Lassiter said students will get hands-on laboratory and research experience that could encourage them to go into biotechnology when they’re older. This includes performing electrophoresis, which is a method used in laboratories for separating molecules.

“They’ll be taking classes and learning applications that the kids can see themselves doing in those fields,” she said.

Selling the school has been one of Lassiter’s missions because of the new choice-based student assignment plan.

In the past, individual addresses were assigned to specific schools. Under the choice plan being used for the upcoming school year, families instead ranked where they’d like to go from a list of choices. The new plan also said that every elementary school feeds its students to a specific middle school and then to a specific high school.

“We’re extremely excited because of the staff that is here, and we’ve heard great things about the principal from when she was at Heritage,” said Pamela Butts of Raleigh, whose 11-year-old daughter, Camryn, will be a sixth-grader at the school.

The assignment situation is expected to change for the 2013-14 school year because the school board voted last month to direct staff to develop a new plan that goes back to tying addresses to specific schools.

Rolesville Middle has 511 students, mostly sixth-graders with a small seventh-grade class. It won’t have eighth grade until next year.

The school will likely eclipse 1,000 students by the 2013-14 school year. But for now, Lassiter is glad to have a small opening class that she hopes to instill with her high expectations for them.

“I’m excited about the fact that I can take 500 kids and build the culture of the school,” she said.

Parents like the small-school feel, too.

“We knew that it would be a small school,” said Michelle King of Wake Forest, whose 12-year-old son, Tyler, is leaving Thales Academy to attend seventh grade at Rolesville Middle. “It will help with the transition from private school.”