Education

Wake County school board backs moving Mills Park Elementary students

Students move between classes at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. The Wake County student assignment staff says the school is overcrowded at 151 percent of its capacity. The new student assignment proposal calls for moving hundreds of students out of Mills Park, which families say is too drastic a change.
Students move between classes at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. The Wake County student assignment staff says the school is overcrowded at 151 percent of its capacity. The new student assignment proposal calls for moving hundreds of students out of Mills Park, which families say is too drastic a change. cseward@newsobserver.com

Wake County school board members turned down a request Tuesday to allow more Cary students to stay at the popular but overcrowded Mills Park Elementary School rather than make them move to a new school in August.

The school board told student assignment staffers to stick with their recommendation to move Mills Park Elementary students from the Blackstone at Amberly and the Cary Park subdivisions to the new Hortons Creek Elementary opening next summer. The decision comes after nearly three months of lobbying by west Cary families to remain at Mills Park.

“It’s very hard to keep going to the citizens to ask for money to build schools when we’re not going to make the hard decisions to fill schools,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton.

The board is scheduled to give final approval to the 2017-18 student assignment plan on Dec. 6. Parents may have a chance to persuade the board to change its mind next week when three new members take office. The board is down to eight members after the death of Zora Felton, whose successor won’t be named by next week.

Wake annually moves thousands of students to fill new schools and to reduce crowding at existing schools. The latest assignment plan is largely focused on filling three new schools: River Bend Middle and Rogers Lane Elementary in Raleigh and Hortons Creek Elementary in Cary.

Most of the community feedback has been on the proposal to send 228 students from Mills Park to Hortons Creek.

Mills Park Elementary is in one of the fastest-growing parts of Wake County. The school has been under an enrollment cap for nearly four years, meaning new families who have moved into its attendance area after December 2012 haven’t been guaranteed seats at Mills Park.

School administrators say 182 students are capped out of Mills Park and attend schools that have more space but are further away. Even with the cap, Mills Park has 1,050 students and is one of the biggest elementary schools in Wake.

“They’re crowded,” said Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment. “We’re opening a brand-new school. It’s going to be nice.

“By this time next year they’ll be showing videos about how wonderful it is.”

Some of the families facing a school change have pointed to how well Mills Park is doing academically with so many students. But school board member Susan Evans said parents are overlooking how the school is handling more students than it was meant to accommodate.

“The parents may think it’s been OK, but it’s extremely stressful for the staff,” Susan Evans said.

Options discussed Tuesday included not moving any of the Mills Park students, not moving the 111 from Blackstone and Cary Park or not moving the 43 from Cary Park. But board members, in an informal vote, told staff to stick with the recommendation first presented in September to move all 228 students.

Board members noted how current Mills Park fourth-graders who are in the areas that will be moved will be able to “grandfather” at the school next year. They won’t have to attend Hortons Creek if they provide their own transportation to Mills Park.

For those families who will move to Hortons Creek, school leaders talked about how strong the school should be. Like Mills Park, Hortons Creek is projected to have a reading proficiency rate of around 87 percent.

“All these will be quality schools, no doubt,” said Benton, the board chairman.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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