Wake County Schools

Stability, diversity are 'clarion calls,' Wake schools chief says

Posted May 5, 2011

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— Ninety days into his tenure as superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, Tony Tata says the matter of student assignment is among the top concerns among parents and teachers he's met with over the past few months.

"Stability is the clarion call here, and diversity is also the clarion call," Tata said Thursday of the issue, which has polarized the community since a revision last year to the district's longstanding policy of busing students to help achieve socio-economic diversity.

Effective with the 2012-13 school year, the change affects the way the school system places students in schools by focusing on proximity to where they live instead of shifting students from schools so that no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches.

"(The question here is) how do you manage the growth while capturing the history and the essence of this system and what has made it so great. And we think – we think – we're on that path with the Student Assignment Task force," Tata said.

Since March, a six-member team of school system staff has been working full-time to find the best way to implement the controversial policy change.

It hopes to take two proposed courses of action, based on research from 22 school districts across the country using 18 criteria, to the public within the next few weeks for feedback before making a recommendation to the school board.

"I think the key thing we have to do is capture the rich history and legacy of what makes this school system so successful, while also accommodating for growth," Tata said. "Because that is the real issue. That's the 800-pound gorilla in the room – that the growth that we experienced kept breaking these assignment plans."

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Tata says stability in the wake of that growth – the Wake County school system, with approximately 143,000 students, is the largest in the state and continues to grow – has been the central theme he's heard from parents and teachers in the past three months.

Since replacing former Superintendent Del Burns on Jan. 31, Tata says, he has visited 91 schools, met with more than 1,000 teachers, hundreds of parents and has attended more than 300 meetings around the county.

Student achievement and improving schools are also continual themes he's heard from the community.

"We've got to get this right.," he said. "We don't have an option."

In the midst of tough economic times and an anticipated 5 percent budget cut, it's a challenge.

Tata's $1.25 billion budget prioritizes teacher retention and classroom investment in the face of a projected $2 billion to $3 billion state budget shortfall next year.

Under the budget, the school district will cut 46 central services clerical positions, reduce contract months for assistant principals and reduce per-student spending by $52 next year. Additional resources will be directed toward teacher retention in underenrolled schools and creating new technology and international studies programs in 10 schools.

"My priorities were protecting teachers and classrooms, setting the conditions for all schools to be in high demand and operating more efficiently," Tata said. "I really think that's the right focus for us. And I think we've been messaging that well to the county commissioners and state legislators."


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  • mshood7 May 9, 2011

    Until we start education our children instead of allowing outsiders to tell us how to run OUR' schools when they were not elected by the majority. I say butt out and keep you nose our of business you were not elected to the school board. We elected those who best represent every child not based on diversity but a real desire for every child to learn based on a worthy curriculum and not 'FLUFF!:

  • btneast May 6, 2011

    High growth cities/counties up north do this well and you don't end up with inadequate public facilities when building out

    True, but you end up with very high taxes that cause many to pull upstakes and move south.....like to Wake County...

  • Nancy May 6, 2011

    "The biggest problem facing our school system in terms of growth is that the county commissioners are allowed to approve new neighborhoods without even talking to the school board. They approve the new housing, then tell the school board to find schools for them. Not sure why they can't develop a system where all parties work together in the decisions of approving new housing developments." - jane shade

    That's because our county government will not develop an APFO - where they will not allow building permits to be issued until and unless facilities are in place to support the new growth.

    High growth cities/counties up north do this well and you don't end up with inadequate public facilities when building out.

  • wakemom May 6, 2011

    did any of you try to see the virtual town hall meeting this am? before the meeting i was able to get on wcpss website. then all of a sudden, it went down. now i just tried again and magically it is back up. if anybody here was able to join how did it go??

  • Remy May 6, 2011

    "AWakeMon get a grip. We dont have kids in the school system and I would like you to know that I pay more in state taxes to support the schools than you do." superman

    "Sorry but they your kids and your responsiblity. You didnt realize before you had kids that they might change your life?" superman

    I can't help but think these comments sound just like "5 dollar gas is your fault". Comments that have no relation to the subject matter, and usually no factual basis.

  • btneast May 6, 2011

    Initially I was skeptical that an "educational outsider" would be successful.

    Part of the problem with our "educational system" in general has been the "inbreeding". Our overall rankings worldwide indicate that we haven't been doing something right for many years, perhaps a different perspective and appraoch is in order. To keep doing things the same old way year after year and expecting different results is insanity.

  • AWakeMom May 6, 2011

    I would like you to know that I pay more in state taxes to support the schools than you do. - superman

    And you know this about me how exactly??? I'm not saying my opinion is more valuable - but like you, I'm entitled to have one. Agree or disagree with with the current reassignment plan, up to you. I'm not bashing anyone for their opinion, but unlike others on here, I'm also not "telling" anyone what they know.

  • superman May 6, 2011

    If you dont like your school assignement-- home school or send to a private school. Sorry but they your kids and your responsiblity. You didnt realize before you had kids that they might change your life? Take a deep breath and adjust.

  • superman May 6, 2011

    AWakeMon get a grip. We dont have kids in the school system and I would like you to know that I pay more in state taxes to support the schools than you do. We pay Wake County property taxes just like you do if you own a house. About 80% of the state income tax and the county property taxes go for education. I hope you appreciate the handout you will be getting for the next 16 years for each one of your children. Just because you might have children doesnt make your opinion any more valuable. Once a school is built they need to fill it up. Bus students if you have to. The board has already lost a 30 million federal grant and wasted another 3 million when they changed the location of a new high school. That amounts to about 4 million each for the 9 board members. They just need to stop serving so much Kool-Aid at the board meetings.

  • wakemom May 6, 2011

    Sending students tot he closest school they live near is an easy solution for elementary and middle school aged children since there are 103 elementary schools and 32 middle schools. However there are ONLY 24 high schools, and most of them are some sort of magnet school. What happens when the school you live near doesn't meet your childs needs? How much reassignment is too much at that point?

    this is the problem i am having only mines is middle school and 10mins away. ALL the middle schools close to me are magnet. so again to those that say go to school close to home is easier said than done. some ppl starting telling me maybe i need to move, stop complaining, or stop being lazy and drive. meanwhile i went to an open house last night to a school that is suppose to be a school closes to me & it took us 25 mins to get there. so to those that can get a school close to them have the best of both worlds bc they can also apply to the school near me. we get denied & shipped out