Politics & Government

This Wake middle school could be renamed. See why school leaders think change is needed.

Updated on June 18, 2019 with approval of Apex Friendship Elementary School name.

East Wake Middle School could get a brand-new name after 30 years as part of an effort to spark community support for a school that’s struggled to keep families from leaving.

The Wake County school board’s facilities committee recommended June 5 that East Wake Middle be renamed Neuse River Middle School due to its proximity to the Neuse. Much of the debate was over whether to use Neuse River Middle, which is backed by the school’s PTA, or Knightdale Middle, which is what the town prefers.

Board members cited how East Wake Middle draws students from multiple schools and municipalities, not just from Knightdale.

“We still remain a unified school district,” said school board member Heather Scott, who represents much of Eastern Wake. “We are the Wake County Public School System. I’d be a little hesitant to name a school after a city.”

On June 18, the full board voted to accept the committee’s recommendation to use Apex Friendship Elementary as the name for a new school that will be built near Apex Friendship High and Apex Friendship Middle.

No date has been scheduled yet for the vote on East Wake Middle’s renaming.

The school district rarely renames schools. The last two times it happened was when Wake Forest-Rolesville High School and Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School dropped Rolesville from their names after the opening of Rolesville High and Rolesville Middle.

East Wake Middle has had a hard time recruiting and retaining families. The school has 658 students, but 661 students who live in its assignment area have chosen to attend other schools in the district.

East Wake Middle has also lost 227 students to homeschooling and 86 students to charter schools.

The percentage of students receiving federally subsidized lunches at East Wake Middle is 71.1 percent, the highest of any non-alternative middle school in the district.

School leaders say that giving East Wake a new name recognizes that the campus is undergoing a $70.9 million renovation that’s scheduled to be done in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year.. They say a name change could also aid in reinvigorating community interest, pride and support for the school.

“The principal is very interested in supporting the name change,” Betty Parker, the district’s senior director for real estate services, told board members. “

School officials also say there are practical reasons for renaming the school. When East Wake Middle opened in 1989, its location on 2700 Old Milburnie Road was in the county’s jurisdiction. Now the site is located in the municipal limits of Knightdale, which is the fastest-growing municipality in Wake County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Based on how much the county has grown since 1989, school officials say East Wake Middle has become less accurate as a way of identifying the school’s location.

The third option brought up but not considered by the committee on Wednesday was to rename it as Old Milburnie Road Middle School.

While East Wake Middle could undergo a name change, school board member Bill Fletcher said Wednesday that officials are not going to take action on renaming Willow Springs Elementary School or the new Willow Spring High School. The elementary school is named after the U.S. Post Office, which makes springs plural, while the high school is named after the unincorporated community, which uses the singular spring.

“Let it sit,” said Fletcher, chairman of the facilities committee. “In time the community will ask us to go one way or the other.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.