Parents speak at Wake County student assignment hearing
More than two dozen parent speakers, backed by peers wearing their school colors and waving signs, pleaded with the Wake County school board Tuesday not to move their children to different schools next year.
The speakers argued that the 2016-17 student assignment proposal goes too far in moving 3,620 students to different schools. Using a mix of emotional and analytical arguments, speakers said the plan would disrupt communities, harm schools that would lose students next year and force some families to go to year-round schools.
“It seems like there’s one voice coming from every group here tonight, and that focus is community and allowing us to go to school in our community,” North Raleigh parent Russ Smith told the school board.
School assignment staffers say the majority of the moves are needed to fill five new schools opening in the growing school system. The plan is also supposed to help accomplish other goals, such as putting family members on the same calendar and avoiding schools that are too full or too empty. People seeking more information can go to http://wcpss.net/Domain/6073 to view and comment on the plan.
The Democratic majority on the school board has been trying to avoid the sorts of large-scale moves that have provoked parental anger in past years. The focus on stability has meant the system is no longer aggressively moving students to maintain diverse enrollments at specific schools. In the mid- to late-2000s, Wake reassigned as many as 10,000 students a year for various reasons, including diversity.
Parents have been suggesting changes since the first draft of the plan was presented in August. While school officials made some changes in response to parental concerns, some speakers on Tuesday want further alterations.
Northwest Raleigh parents from the Leesville and Brier Creek communities were among the most vocal contingents at the public hearing.
Leesville changes protested
Under the proposal, 130 students from Leesville Road Elementary, which school officials say is overcrowded, would be sent to the new Pleasant Grove Elementary in Cary. An additional 68 Leesville students would go to Sycamore Creek Elementary in northwest Raleigh.
Speakers suggested a two-year moratorium on moving students out of Leesville Elementary. Speakers cited a range of arguments, including the proposition that growth is slowing around Leesville and that fewer students would wind up moving than projected by assignment staff.
“We don’t really have to worry about the numbers exploding at Leesville,” said Leesville parent Lauren Trustman Noyes, as parents stood around her in their green shirts holding “Protect Our Pride” signs, in reference to elementary school’s mascot, a lion cub.
Speakers noted that Leesville Elementary is closer to their homes than Pleasant Grove, which is near the Durham County line. School officials have said it’s hard to find neighborhoods with families who could fill Pleasant Grove because it’s near Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Umstead State Park.
“It’s much safer for elementary school-age children to attend a school that’s less than 2 miles away as opposed to a school that’s 9 miles away that requires them traveling through some of Raleigh’s busiest and most dangerous roads,” Leesville parent Bradford Brady said.
Overcrowding has also been cited by staff as a reason for the recommended changes at Mills Park Middle School in Cary. The plan would move 133 Mills Park students to West Cary Middle and 118 students to the new Pine Hollow Middle in northwest Raleigh.
But Brier Creek families complained that moving them from Mills Park to Pine Hollow would force them to go to a year-round middle school. These families, who have been frequently reassigned over the past decade, argued they should be allowed to stay at Mills Park or be given the option to apply to a traditional-calendar middle school that has the space to take them.
“You’re going to once again set the year-round program up for failure with forced transfers,” parent Amy Sparks said.
Other parents from the school stood up in red shirts and held signs that advocated keeping Brier Creek neighborhoods on the traditional calendar.
“If you really want year-round schools to succeed, don’t force them down our throat,” Sparks said.
Like the Leesville families, Brier Creek parents also asked the school board to put off moving students from the school for two years.
School board members are supposed to use the feedback from Tuesday’s meeting as they consider changes at a Nov. 17 work session. The final vote is scheduled for Dec. 1.
“We’re real families being affected by this, not just numbers being used to fill schools,” Brier Creek parent Sara Van Asch told the board.