Education

Parents lose their battle for a year-round school. Will more Wake families lose, too?

Third-grade teacher Kristi Gutshall looks over work her students are doing at Holly Grove Elementary School in Holly Springs, N.C. on Nov. 16, 2017.
Third-grade teacher Kristi Gutshall looks over work her students are doing at Holly Grove Elementary School in Holly Springs, N.C. on Nov. 16, 2017. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The Wake County school board’s split decision to open a new elementary school on a traditional calendar is a likely sign of deeper friction as leaders and parents weigh the future of year-round schools.

School board members voted 5-4 on Tuesday to open Buckhorn Creek Elementary School in Holly Springs on a traditional calendar. Families had lobbied for weeks for a year-round calendar at the school that will open next fall.

Board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said she understood some people were unhappy, but other families wanted a traditional calendar.

“We listened,” she said after Tuesday’s board meeting. “It is hard, as a human being, to say, ‘Listening means you do what I ask you to do.’ We didn’t actually honor the request (parents) were making to us tonight. But the five of us who voted for it were honoring the request of those others.”

Wake has been moving away from year-round schools, which are often seen as a way to help the school system deal with growth. A multi-track year-round school, in which students are split into four tracks, can increase a building’s capacity by as much as 33 percent.

But parents often complain about the year-round calendar, and Wake has agreed since 2013 to open all but one new elementary and middle school on a traditional calendar.

The Buckhorn Creek fight could be repeated next year as the school board decides whether to open the new Alston Ridge Middle School in Cary in 2019 on a traditional calendar or, as some parents want, on a year-round calendar. Staff have talked about switching Alston Ridge Elementary to a traditional calendar to put both schools on the campus on the same schedule.

Board member Roxie Cash, who also served on the board in the 1990s and voted against making Buckhorn Creek a traditional-calendar school, said the reason Wake developed year-round schools in the first place is still relevant.

“One thing I’ve been very consistent about – in high-growth areas, I just cannot understand why we would move multi-track to traditional,” she said.

About 35 people dressed in red attended Tuesday’s board meeting in a last-ditch effort to convince members they should pick the year-round calendar for Buckhorn Creek. Parent Alice Rup said she believed a year-round school would be best for her children.

“The board that we need must make an effort to provide every child in Wake County with the stability that we need,” Rup said.

Board member Kathy Hartenstine, who voted to open Buckhorn Creek on a traditional calendar, said Tuesday’s decision does not reflect her opinion about which calendar option is better.

“I believe year-round and traditional calendars serve the needs of a growing system, the individual needs of children and the preference of families,” she said.

The assignment plan for Buckhorn Creek, which had several iterations, changed again Tuesday. Students assigned to Holly Grove or Herbert Akins, both year-round elementary schools, can apply to attend Buckhorn Creek as their traditional-calendar option.

Families affected by the plan can apply to four year-round elementary schools: Herbert Akins, Holly Grove, Holly Springs and Ballentine.

The application process opens in January, and there’s no guarantee any family’s application will be approved.

Some board members have said the options and changes are a compromise, but parents disagree. So do some board members.

“I do not see this as a compromise when one side is not seeing the present offer as an advantage,” said board member Donald Agee, who voted against opening Buckhorn Creek on a traditional calendar. “We just do not have enough seats. I don’t care what the calendar is.”

The board on Tuesday named Daniel Simons principal of Buckhorn Creek Elementary. He is currently the principal of West Lake Elementary in Apex, and he will earn an annual salary of $84,211 in his new role.

Pressley Baird: 919-829-8935, @pressleybaird

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