Academic programs to help struggling Wake County students may be expanded to help move the state’s largest school district toward its ambitious goal of having 95 percent of students graduating from high school.
School administrators presented Tuesday the wide range of steps they’ve begun or want to start as part of the district’s five-year strategic plan, although they did not discuss cost estimates. Among the proposals on the table are expanded summer programs targeted at students who need extra help before they begin the new school year.
“If we can get a handle on offering these non-traditional things, I really believe in all my heart that this is what’s going to make the difference for Wake County schools being a great school system for some of its students to being a great school district for all its students,” school board member Susan Evans said.
In January, the school board adopted the goal of having, by 2020, Wake graduating annually at least 95 percent of its students ready for productive citizenship as well as higher education or a career. The graduation rate is currently 82.9 percent.
James Hedrick, principal of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, said a committee he co-chaired looked for the strategies that would have the greatest impact on raising student achievement. Ideas proposed Tuesday include:
▪ Expanding ninth-grade summer transition camps for at-risk, or what Wake calls “at promise,” students entering high school;
▪ Expanding opportunities during summer and during breaks at year-round schools for rising second-grade students and middle school students who aren’t proficient in reading and math;
“We know how crucial success in eighth grade is for graduating from high school,” said Dawn Dawson, Wake’s senior director of early learning.
▪ Opening a site to provide alternative educational services to students in lieu of long-term suspensions.
“Keeping kids engaged in education as opposed to disengaged will have big paybacks,” school board member Jim Martin said.
▪ Piloting an “Equal Opportunity Schools” program in seven high schools to increase access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. Students at some higher-poverty high schools have less access to those high-level courses.
Other ideas include working more with social service agencies and community groups in what’s called the “wraparound model” to support all of a student’s needs. Services include providing students with access to school meals, determining whether health issues could be affecting a child’s performance and looking at mental-health needs.
Ideas also ran the gamut from introducing new training for teachers to making it easier for people to register to become school volunteers.
While the various ideas drew praise, school board member Keith Sutton wanted to know which proposals could be funded. Superintendent Jim Merrill said those answers would be worked out during the development of the budget.
In other action Tuesday, the board:
▪ Voted to convert Highcroft Elementary School in Cary to the traditional calendar in the 2016-17 school year.
▪ Voted to reduce the number of locally-required CASE21 tests in reading, math and science from three exams a year per subject to one.
▪ Approved $690 as the fee for three-week summer camps for families of third-grade students who want to attend even though they passed the state’s end-of-grade reading exam. The camps are still free for students who failed the reading exam.
▪ Approved a policy that will now require parents to give consent for their children to use technology or the Internet in school.
▪ Approved Hortons Creek, Pleasant Grove, Poole Road and Rogers Lane as the names of four new elementary schools and Apex Friendship as the name of a new middle school.