Education

Wake County considers changing student transfer policy

Students crowd a stairway as classes change at Heritage High School in Wake Forest NC on Sept. 10, 2015. Wake County presented a proposed assignment plan and one part of the plan is to reassign part of Heritage High School's students to Rolesville High Schools. Many parents are upset. One of the reasons the school system needs to do this is because Heritage is overcrowded.
Students crowd a stairway as classes change at Heritage High School in Wake Forest NC on Sept. 10, 2015. Wake County presented a proposed assignment plan and one part of the plan is to reassign part of Heritage High School's students to Rolesville High Schools. Many parents are upset. One of the reasons the school system needs to do this is because Heritage is overcrowded. cseward@newsobserver.com

Wake County parents will find it harder to transfer their children into the schools they want to attend next year as school leaders balance the needs of families with those of the district.

School board members said Tuesday that a staff proposal to make approval of transfers “rare and exceptional” was too extreme a change from current policy. But board members said administrators just can’t continue to approve transfers because the moves often cause some schools to fall below capacity and others to become overcrowded.

Instead, the board wants transfer requests to fit in with the principles of the student assignment policy, which include filling schools efficiently and trying to keep them from having too many low-performing students.

“Some of us have talked about choice with purpose as opposed to choice in general,” said school board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee. “Our purpose No. 1, always, has to be student achievement. Our purpose also has to be operational efficiency of our organization.”

During the next two months, school staff and board members will work to put a revised policy in place before the first transfer application period begins in February.

Transfers are one means that parents use when trying to enroll their children in a school different from the one assigned to their home address.

According to school system records, 13,190 students, or 8.4 percent of Wake’s 157,443 students, are attending schools as transfer students. Additionally, 36 percent of elementary school students are not attending their assigned school, a number that includes transfer and magnet students and families who requested a school on a different calendar.

The high number of transfer students at some schools led to the policy review. Board members said they don’t want to have to move base students out of a school because it has become overcrowded with transfer students.

13,190Number of students attending Wake schools as transfer students

36%Percentage of elementary school students in Wake not attending their assigned school (includes transfer and magnet students, and families who requested a school on a different calendar)

“We need to keep the stability of base populations as much as possible,” said school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner.

In the first draft of the 2016-17 assignment plan presented in August, school assignment staff proposed reassigning students out of crowded Heritage High School in Wake Forest to underenrolled Rolesville High School. Some families assigned to Heritage argued that it wasn’t fair to move them from the school when the crowding was caused by a large number of transfer students.

Underenrollment at Rolesville High

School board Vice Chairman Tom Benton noted that Rolesville High is underenrolled in part because 856 students in the school’s attendance area – about a third of them – are attending different schools.

“We keep mentioning Heritage; that sort of brought it to the forefront,” Benton said in an interview.

Administrators dropped the Heritage moves from the plan the board will vote on next week, a reassignment that moves more than 3,000 students to different schools next year.

Board members and staff said they’re not targeting transfers that are automatically approved, such as those given to all employees who want their kids to attend the school where they work. They’re also not planning to remove the “grandfathering” protection given to some families who can stay at their current school even if they are reassigned.

The awarding of discretionary transfers will be up for review. In some cases, a family might ask for a transfer for child care or academic reasons. Board members said that they want staff to consider how approving a transfer would affect the sending and receiving schools.

We need to emphasize to people that choice is not just anywhere you want to go just simply because School B has seats available right now.

Tom Benton, vice chairman, Wake school board

“We need to emphasize to people that choice is not just anywhere you want to go just simply because School B has seats available right now,” Benton said at the meeting.

Board member Susan Evans suggested considering setting limits on the percentage of transfer students at schools.

Board members said there are many other options aside from transfers, such as applying to magnet schools, that parents can request when trying to change their child’s school.

“Everybody at this table believes that you can go to any elementary school in Wake County and get a high-quality education,” board member Bill Fletcher said. “The quality of what we provide across our classrooms, across our schools with our teacher pool is extremely consistent throughout the school system.”

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

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