Wake County releases new student assignment proposal

A new proposal for filling Wake County’s schools is focused on moving as few students as possible as opposed to tackling the growing number of high-poverty and racially isolated schools.

Wake schools administrators presented Tuesday the first draft of the 2016-17 school enrollment plan that’s focused mainly on filling five new schools opening next year in Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs. In a community where parents complain about children being moved around, staff said they tried to limit the neighborhoods affected.

In the past, the opening of a school often resulted in changes to many other schools, like a line of falling dominoes. But Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said her staff didn’t want to create a “domino effect” that would disrupt stability for families in North Carolina’s largest school system.

“If we limit the impact area, we’re extending stability to everyone else.” Evans said.

But Evans said it’s too soon to say how many students could be moved. Last year, the school board approved a plan that moved 2,734 students for the 2015-16 school year.

Evans told school board members how the proposal has more students attending schools closer to their homes, reduces inefficient bus routes and tries to keep schools from being too full or too empty. What got less mention is how the proposal would promote the fourth guideline in the student assignment policy of trying to keep schools from having too many low-income or low-achieving students.

“We used to focus on the diversity pillar,” Evans said. “But we focus on all four pillars now.”

In the last seven years, the numbers of schools with high percentages of low-income students and schools where black and Hispanic students make up at least 70 percent of the enrollment have both doubled.

The Democratic school board majority has left in place assignment changes made in 2010 and 2011 by the former Republican majority, changes that shifted low-income students to schools closer to home. The current board has focused on promoting stability in school assignments. That has meant largely leaving intact old assignments based on diversity, while taking no steps to assign students to stem the growing number of low-income schools.

“In the past when I’ve talked with some parents about student enrollment issues, their main concern is about stability,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said in an interview. “ So I think as a school board this first draft is focused on stability.”

The five new schools are Oakview Elementary in Holly Springs, Beaverdam Elementary and Pine Hollow Middle in Raleigh and Pleasant Grove and White Oak elementary schools in Cary.

“We’re really only impacting students in the areas around the new schools,” Evans said.

For instance, the Brier Creek section of northwest Raleigh would leave crowded Mills Park Middle School in Cary for the much closer Pine Hollow Middle. Those families also are proposed to be moved from crowded Panther Creek High in Cary to Leesville Road High in North Raleigh.

White Oak Elementary would reduce crowding at Highcroft Drive Elementary in Cary. White Oak also would handle the overflow from Mills Park Elementary, where crowding has kept out newly arriving families who moved into the area.

“We’re excited because we’ve been short traditional-calendar seats in that area,” Evans said.

The reason for the proposal, Evans said, is to keep up with growth that could bring 40,000 new students to Wake by 2024. For instance, she said Oakview Elementary would get areas from Apex Elementary that currently have no students but include the area around Veridea, a future 1,000-acre development.

Aside from the areas being reassigned to the five new schools, Evans said only small pockets will be affected by the rest of the plan. The changes include:

▪ Moving to Rolesville High neighborhoods assigned to Rolesville Middle School that go to Heritage High School in Wake Forest.

▪ Moving a neighborhood from Conn Elementary in Raleigh to nearby Underwood Elementary so families there can walk to school.

▪ Moving the area by N.C. 540 and N.C. 55 to West Cary Middle to relieve crowding at Mills Park Middle.

Rising fourth-, fifth- and eighth-graders assigned to one of the five new schools can stay where they are now, but without bus service. All students being moved to an existing school can stay at their current school, but also without bus service.

School assignment staff say they will look at incorporating some of the changes that families suggest before a second draft is presented in mid-September.

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

What’s next

Parents can view and comment on the draft assignment proposal at the district’s website, The second draft could be presented Sept. 15, with the third draft on Oct. 20. The school board could approve the plan on Nov. 17.

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