Raleigh, N.C. — Realtors, business owners and civil rights investigators all wanted to hear about Wake County schools from Superintendent Tony Tata Wednesday.
Tata first talked to the Cary Chamber of Commerce and then to about 200 people at a meeting of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors in Cary.
Tata, a retired general who started on the job in January, said he's working to get to know the community and what it expects from the schools.
"I've been in about 45 schools and met with probably three times of that number of groups such as this," he said. "It's just great to get the feedback and listen and learn and understand what demands that the people have for this great school system."
Realtors said that local schools and student assignment are top questions for families considering moving to the area.
Tata talked to them about the Wake County Board of Education's new student-assignment model that prioritizes proximity to schools, instead of socioeconomic diversity. He and six members of his staff are developing the new policy.
Later Wednesday afternoon, Tata planned to talk with federal investigators from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, which is following up on a complaint filed by the state NAACP against the Wake County Public School System.
"Being new, I'm going to tell them about the direction that we're going," Tata said. "We have firmed up some core beliefs at the retreat, and those core beliefs speak directly to some of those issues that some of the folks in civil rights may have."
At a retreat in February, the school board adopted a mission statement emphasizing student achievement, nurturing effective principals and teachers and community involvement.
Civil rights investigators will also meet with members of the school board's Student Assignment Committee and school district staff over the next two days, schools spokesman Michael Evans said. They will return April 6 and 7 to meet with school board members.
The state NAACP has expressed concerns that changing Wake County's student assignment policy to a neighborhood schools model will concentrate poor students into schools in poor communities.
Supporters of the neighborhood model say it will let parents have more choices and be more involved and will increase student achievement.
U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the investigation is a neutral, fact-finding process that in no way implies the OCR believes the complaint has merit. OCR investigations usually include on-site meetings, interviews and data gathering.