Blog: Wake schools move to SAS-developed assessment program
Posted November 9, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education, back from a hiatus that saw the county Board of Commissioners change hands and a privately funded student-assignment plan being discussed, met Tuesday for a work session and a voting meeting.
A discussion of "process for developing a student assignment plan" was on the work sessions, but it was not clear if the board would adopt a "consensus decision-making" approach that member Kevin Hill suggested at the last meeting.
The board had been pushing toward a plan to implement community-based assignment and follow a 5-4 vote last year to drop socio-economic diversity as a criterion. That effort died, however, when member Debra Goldman, who had helped push through the policy change, offered a motion to stop it and the four supporters of diversity quickly joined her.
8 p.m. -- Before moving into an executive session for personnel matters, the board voted 5-4 to immediately drop use of its Effectiveness Index software, which has been criticized as mis-evaluating students.
After that, the board voted unanimously to make a state-backed system called Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) the main tool for determining how students and teachers are doing. EVAAS was developed by SAS and is already in use in Wake.
Member John Tedesco adamantly urged his colleagues to drop the Effectiveness Index immediately because it had made serious errors in assessments. Member Keith Hill said he did not understand dropping a tool that has been paid for through June, but Tedesco was intense in his push to switch immediately to EVAAS.
7:45 p.m. -- In a unanimous vote that came only after extensive series of questions, the board approved hiring firms to whom parents of poor children can turn for supplemental education services at 10 elementary schools that have not met No Child Left Behind targets for three years. The plan calls for spending up to $1,360 per student for 650 students. The district is putting four companies and Shaw University on the list of providers available. The state Department of Public Instruction approves providers for the program under what is known as Title I.
Board members had numerous questions for Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens, including how effective the providers are, how many eligible children get the service and how transportation figures into the service. Hargens promised to return to the board's Nov. 16 work session with information.
Member John Tedesco said he had talked with school principals in his district about other ways the Title I funds could be spent to help students and asked if the supplemental money could be better spent. Hargens said Title I schools get other extra money, but they have to offer the supplemental service.
Member Debra Goldman asked Hargens if the vote could wait until next week, when the board will have a work session and could call a special meeting to take action.
7:20 p.m. -- The school board voted for a staff request to switch the system's cell phones from Sprint to Verizon. Financial chief David Neter told the board that Verizon would provide better coverage and would save the schools about $400,000 a year.
The board gave first approval to a revision in the school transfer policy that would let students who had been studying abroad to return to their former schools. The change to Policy 6203 will need a second vote at another meeting.
The board then unanimously approved a technology and security systems contract with North Carolina Sound of Goldboro for the Crossroads I and II buildings to which the system will move its headquarters next year. In an earlier vote to approve non-controversial items, the board declared the 3600 Wake Forest Road building in which it was meeting as surplus property it will try to sell, along with buildings at 2302 Noble Road and 4600 New Bern Ave.
7 p.m. -- The school board took up a proposal to return to a schedule with two voting meetings per month, a policy from which it moved away in late summer, but decided not to make the jump now. The board had discussed the change at its work session earlier in the day.
Member Debra Goldman noted that it takes two votes, at two meetings, to change a board policy unless the proposal gets a two-thirds vote. The delay, she said, gives members time to digest the plan between votes.
"I would like to request of the board that we give this a few more months" in light of another plan to restore standing committees that had been abolished at the same time the meeting schedule changed.
Member Keith Sutton asked to table the changed meeting schedule, supporting Goldman's delay request. Members said they expected to take up the question again at the end of January.
Then, in a 5-3 vote, the board gave first approval to a policy change that would bring back four standing committees abolished earlier this year. During earlier discussion at its work session, the board indicated that committees will meet on an as-needed basis, not on a fixed schedule as they had under the previous scheme.
6:52 p.m. -- Board members talked over one another in their desire to back a motion from member Chris Malone to make the district's next high school Rolesville High School. Then they passed it unanimously and dropped the previously approved name of Forest Ridge High School the same way.
6:50 p.m. -- Malcolm Williams thanks the school system for the success of his children and grandchildren in the Wake schools, then urged the board to emphasize early childhood education to help all children achieve, especially ones from poor homes.
Jim Martin of Apex, a chemistry professor at N.C. State University and a regular speaker at board meetings told the board that pushing students into algebra in middle school is a mistake and deprives them of taking the subject when they have more ability to understand the subject as high school students.
Ann Rouleau of Cary asked the board how it can evaluate the cost of any new assignment plan when it has no data about costs imposed or avoided by the current system.
Kelly Roberts of Raleigh said she volunteers at a school and that one-on-one help for low-achieving students will be lost if a community-based assignment system concentrates them in schools near their homes.
Lois Nixon of Cary praised the district staff and urged the board to "let them do what they can better than we can," including deciding student assignments and working to raise achievement. "Right now we are getting a fabulous return on our investment," Nixon said, but the district has problems that remain to be solved. The district is 93rd among 115 school districts in the state in funding, and the system should have a new attitude.
6:35 p.m. -- Sharon Eckard of Raleigh said last week's election of a Republican majority to the Board of County Commissioners was not a vote of confidence in dropping diversity as a student assignment goal but rather a sign of a "polarized electorate." She said the margins in the commissioner races were narrow, not a mandate.
Nate Barton of Fuquay-Varina, a teacher at Washington Elementary School, said "the voice of the classroom teacher frequently goes unheard" in school district decision-making. "Find a way to hear the voices of the ones who have the greatest impact on our children," Barton urged.
Susan Evans of Apex called it "shameless political pandering" for member John Tedesco and Chairman Ron Margiotta to have called it discrimination to note that some students do better than others. If we are ever going to do something about student achievement, we have to assess student achievement," Evans said. "It is not a quota. It is not a permanent label," to consider achievement in assigning students, she said.
6:25 p.m. -- One child in seven lives in poverty in North Carolina, and education is the best antidote to poverty, Cy Young of Raleigh said. Young encouraged the board "to work together to develop the best possible student assignment" plan and to make it one that considers diversity. "Racism is alive and well. "I fear we still have a long way to go," and a diversity policy "will go a long way" to fighting it, Young said.
Vickie Adamson of Raleigh criticized member John Tedesco for a comment he made last month to member Debra Goldman, a breast cancer survivor, about a pink streak she had in her hair. October was breast cancer awareness month in the U.S. Adamson said she, too, is a cancer survivor. Tedesco referred to Goldman as "Miss Pinkie Hair" after a heated discussion over the future of a student assignment plan Tedesco was driving.
6:15 p.m. -- During public comment, Patricia Pilarinos said North Carolina faces a fall to the bottom state in education and that will hurt Wake County. "Since the school board has already made the easy cuts this past year," it faces "deep,deep cuts" in making the 2011-12 budget. "This year's cuts will go right to the bone," Pilarinos said, and a school-choice plan may not be something Wake can afford.
Heather Koons of Raleigh told the board that state data shows that Wake students do best in college of students in the six largest North Carolina systems, and she said that school diversity is part of students' being prepared for college.
J.B. Buxton of Raleigh told the board he wants to see "a dramatic acceleration" of raising student achievement. "It is time for us to expect more from the board" than a singular focus on student assignment, Buxton said. "It is high time" to raise student achievement across the system, he said.
"Several members of this board have been using racial code words" in discussing student achievement, Amy Lee of Raleigh said. Schools need to be given more than test-score labels, she said.
"The zone system is dead," Aransa Sue Lascurain, said, adding that is good. The board needs to focus on student achievement and get past its divisions on assignment, she said. "Please show some real leadership to make the classroom your No. 1 priority," Lascurain added.
5:50 p.m. -- Facilities manager Joe Desormeaux offered the board three options for naming the district's next high school, and member Chris Malone immediately asked for Rolesville High School. The staff had offered Buffalo Creek and Quarry Road as other options. Desormeaux also asked the board to formally remove its designation of Forest Ridge High School, made before last November's election and make moot when the new majority voted to kill work on a Forest Ridge Road site and chose the Quarry Road location.
The board then recessed until the scheduled 6 p.m. public comment section of the meeting.
5:40 p.m. -- As the board opened its monthly voting meeting, Chairman Ron Margiotta jumped on speculation about the effect of expected budget cuts.
"There has been a great deal of speculation on how the board will handle budget cuts," Margiotta said. "There has never been a practice of overreacting to" budget shortages, he said, and he criticized a report that a county commissioner had said 2,000 teacher positions would be cut for 2011-12.
"While reductions and cuts I'm sure will be required," the board is committed to protecting services to the students. Margiotta said, and there will not be 2,000 teacher cuts.
5:10 p.m. -- The Wake schools will probably begin to get federal Race to the Top money some time in December, and the total should be $10.2 million out of $400 million the federal government awarded to North Carolina, finance director David Neter told the board.
The federal grant requires that half of the Race money go to local districts, though North Carolina had planned to pass on only $165 million, Neter said. The state then decided Wake could have $2.1 million more, but also said it will hold back that money as a contribution to a statewide cloud computing initiative
5:05 p.m. -- Member Kevin Hill introduced the board to a three-stage decision-making process that he is suggesting the board undertake before trying to devise a new student-assignment plan. Some of that involves defining terms used in the new assignment policy approved this year, and other parts involve fiscal implications in an ever-tighter budget environment.
"It forces the board to answer key questions before we start talking about what a student-assignment plan will look like," Hill said.
"We have to have a hard look at what any new plan may cost in addition to the building blocks to put that plan together," Hill said.
Questions need to be settled before the board can ask the community to support a plan, Hill said.
"I don't know when in the past we've ever looked at the cost of a student assignment plan," Chairman Ron Margiotta said. Hill agreed, but said the change envisioned by the community-based policy that will drive assignments beginning in 2012-13.
"What we're talking about is additional resources" for high-poverty schools or schools with high needs, and those costs can be calculated, Hill said. He and Margiotta agreed that the board needs to develop a process for developing a plan.
Member John Tedesco said more resources for high-poverty schools need to be determined regardless of assignment, and the board needs to establish its "values" for curriculum in the face of what fiscal director David Neter has characterized as a coming fiscal "hurricane" due to federal and state budget-cutting.
"We need to parse this thing out" in "a rubber room for eight hours," Hill said. The board needs to decide what "equity" among schools means and what "proximity" means in trying to establish community assignments.
"There are going to be challenges" to any plan, "and our nine heads need to come together" to decide how to face them, Hill said.
"We need to figure out where our values are as a board" and what needs to be addressed through what steps, member Debra Goldman said. "We need to establish our baseline as a board."
"I respectfully disagree," Tedesco said. Voters said last November what their values are, he said. The core question is whether the board wants to divide the student body with labels, and Goldman agreed the majority does not. A process of deciding values is a stalling tactic, he added.
"I think this needs a separate session," Margiotta said. He said that Board Advisory Committees in each of the nine members' districts should be involved.
Margiotta said that various topics Hill raised could go through committees, but Hill said the entire board should tackle them. "Over the years, the work sessions deal with the issues that supersede committees, the hot-button issues," said Hill, who chaired the board before Margiotta was elected by four Republican members elected last year.
Tedesco said he would "much rather have the input of citizen members" of his Student Assignment Committee before the board takes up values.
"I think this board" needs to try to work together, member Anne McLaurin said.
Member Deborah Prickett raised the unspoken issue by asking where an assignment plan being developed by consultant Michael Alves fits in Hill's suggested effort.
"It doesn't," Hill said, repeating that he wants the board to define terms and values before any assignment plan is considered. The Raleigh-Wake County Chamber of Commerce and other groups are paying Alves, and his efforts are the only ones going on now.
"That's not their responsibility" to find an assignment plan, member Keith Sutton said of Alves' being hired by the chamber and the Wake Education Partnership.
"We'll bring this back again on the 16th," Margiotta said, cutting off the discussion.
4:35 p.m. -- Staff presented the board with information to support an enrollment cap for Forest Pines Drive Elementary School, which has 764 students in a facility designed for 660 and has a new apartment complex going up across the street.
"We're asking for a cap we don't think we're going to need, but it's a safeguard," growth manager Laura Evans told the board. She said the school's principal thinks she can find a way to accommodate 30 or 40 more students when the apartments begin renting later this year, but the school needs protection for the rest of the school year against larger growth.
Projections based on talking with the apartment builder has staff projecting no problems with middle school or high school enrollment, Evans told the board.
4:30 p.m. -- Staff updated the board on assignment changes that will take place for the 2011-12 school year as the student population grows and new schools open. The board will get more details at a work session Dec. 16, the facilities staff said.
The system will hold public workshops next week about student assignments and the appeal process for those. They are "to give the community a chance to provide input," growth manager Laura Evans said.
The assignment changes are to distribute the load on scholols and handle overcrowding, Evans said, and the staff has options that can be discussed to do it.
The assignments are for the third year of a three-year plan and have nothing to do with the community-based policy the board adopted earlier this year. Diversity is not a criterion, however. Evans said the staff will use the current Policy 6200 to decide what to do.
Member John Tedesco asked the staff to find a meeting location in District 2, which he represents, because a majority of assignment nodes that are slated for movement are there.
"Many of these assignments" are around high-poverty schools, member John Tedesco said, and the system may move out students who would benefit from new programs funded by federal Race to the Top money.
3:55 p.m. -- The board heard from staff about its desire to issue a request for proposals to provide parent education under the district's Project Enlightenment program.
Marvin Connelly Jr., an assistant superintendent, said various staff members would review proposals. The board had cut Project Enlightenment staff because of reduced budgets, but it reinstated some of the money to hire an outside provider.
3:50 p.m. -- Member Deborah Prickett said that the Student Achievement Committee she had chaired overlapped a lot with the ad-hoc Underprivileged Student Achievement Task Force headed by member John Tedesco. It meets at schools around the district rather than at headquarters.
In an informal "thumbs up" poll on a suggestion by Keith Sutton to reinstate Policy 1340 that sets the board's committees, five members favored it.
A second informal "vote" on reinstating a second board meeting each month had five proponents, though member Debra Goldman later said she was uncomfortable with her "vote." The time of day for meetings will be held remained unclear when Sutton pressed Chairman Ron Margiotta.
3:40 p.m. -- "The changes will benefit the board," Margiotta said. He suggested the changes but said he had been unhappy with the effectiveness of the board's operations before he was elected chairman last year.
"Discussions were constantly deferred" to make sure all members had received information, he said.
Margiotta asked Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens if the less-frequent meetings were working for staff, and she said that eliminating committee meetings had cut out making repetitive agendas, and staff has been able to get the direction it needs.
Previously, agendas were created for each committee meeting, but most of the issues from the committees went to the board later and were discussed again. The repetitive work was one of Margiotta's reasons for offering his reform.
The board also changed its meeting schedule, having one voting meeting each month rather than two and starting that meeting at 5 p.m. It has moved public comment from the previous 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., which Margiotta says allows more people to participate.
Margiotta also said it has been "a wonderful experience" to have staff and student acknowledgment sessions separate from regular meetings and spending time on them.
The board likely will need to reinstate its Finance Committee as preparations for the 2011-12 budget begin in the coming months. He also said the Facilities Committee may need to be reconstituted once the board begins to deal with how and where to offer programs.
The Student Achievement and Policy committees also may need to be brought back eventually as work arises for them, the chairman said. "These are things we can do," Margiotta said, and the changes were "an attempt to make our school board a little more efficient."
The Student Assignment Committee that had been working on a new plan will continue to be an asset, Margiotta said. It is "an extremely valuable resource" because it has nine non-voting community members, once from each board member's district.
"I hope we can stay with our present schedule for a few more months," Margiotta said. The system has the board's Committee of the Whole work sessions handling all matters that used to go to committees first.
"We cannot realistically expect staff to provide adequate support if we change the meetings even more," Margiotta said. Hill responded that he would like to see some required committee meetings rather than leaving it all up to the chairmen. Some members need to set their calendars months in advance, he added.
I am again committed to reexamining the schedule in three months or six months," Margiotta said. "That's at the pleasure of this board."
"We must use our time to focus on critical issues and make sure all board members have the same information," Margiotta said. The committee system sometimes got in the way of that, he added.
Member Anne McLaurin said she agreed that staff and student recognition are being given more respect, but she said she thought more information was being gathered when committees met.
Work sessions have "been more show and tell" because staff has no committee meetings at which to present information, member Kevin Hill said. He said he has not seen critical discussions among board members.
"I would lean toward reinstating the committees and letting the chairs determine if they have enough business to call a meeting," Hill told Margiotta.
Member Debra Goldman, who had chaired the Policy Committee and is now the staff liaison for policy matters, said that her panel's examination of existing policies was backing up after having been begun, and she urged reinstating it.
"We didn't need to have the whole board sitting here for all those hours," to discuss policy issues, she said.
Not having committee meetings and instead having issues raised at a work session and perhaps voted on a couple of hours later takes away the opportunity to digest information, Goldman said.
Member Keith Sutton said he could go either way on whether to go back to two meetings a month, but he was confused about Margiotta's intentions on meeting times. he had thought, he said, that meeting times would alternate between the traditional 1 p.m. and the new 3 p.m. for work sessions.
Reinstating committees without mandating meeting schedules for them would be a good idea, Sutton said.
"I do see what the staff is saying, and I agree with them" about redundant agendas and having presentations done twice, member Chris Malone said. He backed reinstituting the Finance Committee, he said, but otherwise believes "we're doing it right."
"My company certainly appreciates" his being away less often, Malone added.
"I see a lack of opportunity to share input" and pay attention to the details of issues without committee sessions, Hill said. "I don't think we're being as thorough as board members," he said.
Member Carolyn Morrison renewed an earlier discussion about the once-a-month voting-meeting schedule reducing opportunities for parents to address the board.
"I'm the only working mother on the school board," member Deborah Prickett said, and she thinks the later-meeting schedule tells other working mothers that they can be on the Board of Education.
The compromise Margiotta heard, he said, is Hill's suggestion to re-establish committees but not mandate meetings.
3:05 p.m. -- Chairman Ron Margiotta called the meeting to order slightly late, and the members took up whether they wanted to continue a temporary structure that eliminated committees and changed how often the board meets.