U.S. Ed Chief watching Wake School Board runoff 'very, very closely'
Posted October 25, 2011
At a town hall meeting at Wake Tech's Public Safety Campus today, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the results of the runoff election that will decide control over the Wake County School Board next month is “something I’m watching very, very closely.”
Duncan said he doesn’t know the details of the Hill/Losurdo race, but he's concerned the new choice plan could reduce diversity in Wake schools. “I think it’s so critically important that our nation’s young people be able to grow up around people that look different from them, grow up in a different community, and be comfortable and confident in that environment,” he said.
Duncan said diversity in school helps kids become successful later in life, when tolerance is more difficult to teach. “Far too few of those opportunities exist,” he added. “Our country’s actually becoming more segregated, not less.”
“I wasn’t thrilled with what happened here in Wake County. I was very public about that,” he said, referring to an op-ed he wrote about the system earlier this year. “I think with the recent school board elections, there may be an opportunity to move in a more positive direction.”
“Wake County was actually a national leader” in diversity efforts, he noted. “I would hate to see Wake County lose that mantle.”
Duncan stopped in Raleigh on a national tour to promote President Barack Obama's latest jobs proposal. The secretary told a standing-room-only crowd that the bill would provide $5 billion for infrastructure improvements and renovations at community colleges nationwide. North Carolina's share would be about $163 million.
Duncan, flanked by former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt and Wake Tech President Stephen Scott, said some of that money could help Wake Tech finish its new campus, making room for more classes. College officials said 5,000 students went unserved this fall. That’s actually down from 8,000 wait-listed in fall of 2010.
When asked why he’d come to Raleigh to talk about the proposal, Duncan said he thinks North Carolina’s community college system is one of the best in the country, and that Wake Tech’s cooperative training deals with industry should be a model. “This is what the rest of the country needs,” he said. “We need to take this to scale.”
“This is a community that’s doing everything right,” Duncan said. “This is the kind of place that we want to support.”
“We want to invest, we want to help you grow,” Duncan continued. “We want this country to get back on its feet economically, and to do that, families have to get back on their feet. Families get back on their feet by having access to great community colleges like Wake Tech.”
Overall, he said, Obama’s jobs proposal would funnel $60 billion into education. Half would go to infrastructure, and the other half to pay teachers. The US Senate shot down the proposal last week with opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, but the administration is now trying a piecemeal approach.
Duncan also commented on Monday’s school shooting in Cumberland County, which he called a “devastating tragedy.”
Some parents in Cumberland County have said their kids were concerned about the violence Monday, and apparently knew more about the risk than school officials apparently did. US Ed Secretary Arne Duncan on Wake Schools, NCLB
“There’s no easy answer here,” he responded. “I think to the point of listening to students who are troubled or struggling, having those honest conversations, not sort of putting our head in the sand, having students have the courage to speak up, have an adult they can come to – a teacher, a social worker,a counselor , a principal, their parents – and say we’re worried about something going on.”
Watch the Q&A video at right.