Wake County Schools

Details abound in bid to aid disadvantaged Wake students, along with some major questions

Posted August 26, 2010

Wake County Public School System
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— In a Thursday committee meeting otherwise dedicated to the nitty-gritty of what's good about Wake County schools and what holds the system back from helping disadvantaged students, there were two moments devoted to broad issues – race and the direction that student assignment is going.

The committee was the Disadvantaged Student Task Force, a group that officially has three school board members but that brings together volunteer members that include representatives of social service agencies, faith-based groups, teachers and administrators, business representatives and people who are just interested in the schools and students who fail academically, have discipline problems or otherwise are left behind.

School board member John Tedesco co-chairs the task force with board member Keith Sutton. They have usually found themselves on opposite sides of 5-4 votes in which the school board has jettisoned efforts to have socioeconomic diversity in the system's 159 schools and to try to assign students to schools close to their homes.

Tedesco also chairs the board's Student Assignment Committee, which includes nine community members, one from each school board district, and is charged with drawing new attendance zones.

Critics have attacked Tedesco and four colleagues in the change, saying the new policy will create high-poverty schools and schools with large proportions of students of one racial group. Broad Chairman Ron Margiotta has stated that is not the board's intent, but the shift to community-based assignments has not wavered.

Thursday, parent Diana Bader said the task force needs to have a discussion because its efforts to improve the system so that all students succeed is going in a different direction from the Student Assignment Committee's orders, which are based on the new assignment policy.

Schools with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, she said, will need more resources.

Bader spoke during a wrap-up session in which David Ansbacher, director of the district's magnet schools program, asked participants for "tangible things that we can do" to create successful schools for all students.

During the same session, Marvin Pittman, a former State Board of Education member, told the group that it needs to have frank discussions about race in Wake County and about the difference between equity and equality in allocating resources to schools. The community needs to have an open conversation about how race and ethnicity affect students' opportunities and outcomes, he said.

Other suggestions included teaching parents how the system works and how to advocate for their children, helping the business community better understand what programs it can support with the best chance of the programs' succeeding, more training opportunities for teachers, presenting data about student achievement in ways the community can understand, and finding ways to communicate with parents "beyond the book bag" notices sent home with students.

Participants also suggested identifying best practices that reduce suspensions and court referrals for discipline problems and training and empowering community organizations that provide services for students in the community "after the bells rings," but that may not know what help is most important.

The task force meets at a different school each month. Thursday's session was at Washington Elementary Magnet School on Fayetteville Street.


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