A proposal to move hundreds, if not thousands, of Wake County middle school students is on hold, but many parents are angry about a plan to open a new elementary school in Holly Springs on a traditional calendar.
Wake school board members tentatively agreed Tuesday to drop the changes proposed for where three elementary schools in Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs send their students for middle school. The changes were supposed to reduce how many families are on different calendars for elementary and middle schools, but parents said they didn’t want the additional upheaval.
School board members also told staff Tuesday to go ahead with opening Buckhorn Creek Elementary School in Holly Springs on a traditional calendar in 2018. With 84 percent of Buckhorn Creek’s students coming from year-round schools, a vocal group of families had lobbied to change the new school’s calendar.
School board members said they want to have a community conversation over the next year about school enrollment, including how many year-round schools Wake should have and whether anything should be done to address families who are at elementary and middle schools on a different calendar.
“We are committed to hearing the community’s voice,” school board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said in an interview. “We’re also committed for the community to hear our voice.”
Several of the 30 speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing urged the school board to continue to leave out the middle school changes. The majority of speakers wore red as part of their effort.
“The overwhelming request in this room is to open Buckhorn Creek as year-round,” said Jeremy Merrill, a parent from Holly Springs. “Saying it’s too hard is not a valid reason.
“Should we also tell our children that if something is too hard they should just give up?”
Wake reassigns students annually because of growth. The district is projected to grow by 2,846 students a year over the next seven years.
Many of those affected by the assignment plan would fill four new schools: South Garner High and Bryan Road Elementary in Garner, Apex Friendship Middle in Apex and Buckhorn Creek Elementary. Student assignment staff are also recommending changes to help fill some existing schools, to help elementary schools meet new smaller class-size rules going into effect in 2018 and to balance student performance at some schools.
But last month, school board members raised concerns that the plan leaves many families with mismatched school calendars in elementary and middle schools. Families can find it difficult doing things such as taking vacations if one child is on a year-round calendar and the other is on a traditional calendar.
Student assignment staff responded on Nov. 7 with two different options to move additional students to put more families on the same calendar. Board members had backed an option affecting the middle schools for students at Buckhorn Creek, Herbert Akins and Holly Springs elementary schools.
There was strong opposition to both options on the district’s online forum and at a community meeting last week. Board members readily agreed Tuesday to staff’s proposal to drop most of the changes proposed last month.
“We heard the community,” Johnson-Hostler said. “We’re making the best decision that we can given the circumstances.”
There was far more debate on what to do with Buckhorn Creek’s calendar.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said staff could not guarantee that Buckhorn Creek’s campus would be ready for the year-round calendar that starts in July. The school is on schedule to be ready when the traditional-calendar school year starts in late August.
Moore said that staff needed to know now if they should start making plans to allow Buckhorn Creek to open as a year-round school. Options could have included housing the students at a different site until the campus was ready.
Several school board members said that despite the requests being made now, there’s strong support from families for more traditional-calendar schools.
“For years we have heard from parents in this area for their desire for more traditional choice,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner. “The decision that we made to open Buckhorn Creek as traditional was based on that feedback.”
Several speakers disputed that idea that more year-round schools aren’t wanted in southern Wake.
“For the board members who say the community wants traditional-calendar schools, show me the data,” said Alice Rup, a parent from Holly Springs.
Several board members who backed the traditional calendar for Buckhorn Creek said it was too late to change, which drew a complaint from board member Lindsay Mahaffey.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t have this conversation earlier in the process,” said Mahaffey, whose district includes Buckhorn Creek and who backed Tuesday opening it as a year-round school.