Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County settled Tuesday on a "shell" map of student-assignment zones based on high schools and larger "regions," though the decision by the school board's Student Assignment Committee came with strong cautions that lines on the map will be "fluid" and that more data on student performance and financial impacts have to come first.
The committee's three voting school board members agreed on the high-school map, one of several that had been suggested as a starting point for a community-based assignment system that will not consider the decade-old policy of seeking socioeconomic diversity in all schools.
The committee also learned that in a few years, computer projections show that eastern Wake County will experience the greatest percentage of growth, and the demand for school seats there will outstrip capacity.
The committee also has nine non-voting community members, one from each of the board members' districts, and several of them made it clear to committee Chairman John Tedesco that they want to see data student achievement for students currently assigned to each of the district's magnet schools, and they want to know how that breaks down according to attendance in a magnet program at the school, in a regular program at the magnet school or attendance at a school somewhere else in the county.
District staff had presented some of that data Tuesday, and Tedesco made a point of noting that students bused from southeast Raleigh, an area with a high proportion of poor families, did not appear to do any better if they were bused out of their community for diversity purposes.
The board majority that pushed through the controversial dropping of diversity in assigning students has argued that it dislocates neighborhoods without helping students.
A sticking point in the discussion so far appears to be how magnet schools, which are concentrated in southeast and downtown Raleigh, can continue to handle students who come from other parts of the county to get special programs and accommodate about 5,000 students who would be assigned back to the community under the diversity-blind plan.
"We would have to solidify roles of the magnet schools before we can draw zones," member Anne Sherron said, echoing member Anne Cooper who asked how the district can draw an assignment map if the committee does not know enough about magnet schools.
The school board has said that magnet schools will continue to be the main tool for achieving voluntary school desegregation by offering specialized programs to draw students into high-poverty, minority-concentration parts of the county.
The map the committee will use going forward as a model for discussions creates 16 zones around 21 current or planned high schools. Zones would be grouped into five regions.
Tedesco said he expected that families would be able to choose schools in their zone at the elementary level. At the middle school and high school levels, however, choice could expand to the zone level in order to accommodate all options, such as traditional or year-round calendars.
In addition, the committee said magnet schools would largely remain district-wide options.
"Families in every zone should have some fair choices," Tedesco said.
Board member Keith Sutton, a supporter of the model currently in use, said he thinks the committee's plan is a good starting point.
"It's a map and a plan, zones we've been working with already...so that's as good place to start," Sutton said.
Barbara Walsh, one of the community members, asked Tedesco about beginning to consider the financial implications of a new plan.
"I think we're so far from that," Tedesco said, but he asked Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens to have financial chief David Neter come to the committee's Sept. 24 meeting.
On another front, Tedesco invited all the committee members to a Sept. 30 meeting of the Economically Disadvantaged Student Task Force, another community-membership board committee that he co-chairs.
Comments at Tuesday's meeting and at last week's most-recent task force meeting showed some people in both groups see the two projects influencing each other.