Education

Wake magnet schools not an issue, board member says

Posted January 7, 2010 5:37 p.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2010 6:03 p.m. EST

— Spanish is just one of the daily lessons for students at Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh – it's taught without exception for 45 minutes to every student.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity. That's why we're here," parent Donna Renberg said.

Renberg has three children at Joyner, a magnet school known as a center for Spanish language and culture. She wanted her children immersed in foreign language at a young age.

"My base school wasn't offering (any foreign language)," she said.

Joyner is one of the Wake County Public School System's 19 elementary schools, nine middle schools and six high schools that offer specialized education in one of a variety of programs, from engineering to international studies to creative arts and science.

Nearly 30,000 K-12 students were enrolled in the Wake magnet school program for the 2009-10 school year, and of those, 36 percent applied to be in the program. The schools serve as base schools to the remaining students.

In light of recent policy changes by the Wake County Board of Education, many parents, like Renberg, are asking what changes could be in store for the district's magnet program.

Four new school board members took office last month, creating a new majority pushing for changes to some of the school system's policies that they say will provide parents more choices for their children's educations.

On Tuesday, for example, the board voted 5-4 to end mandatory assignment to year-round schools, a method the board has used in recent years to balance a growing student population.

Because of such changes, board member Debra Goldman says school officials have been flooded with questions and concerns about the future of magnet schools.

"Parents are so upset, students so upset," said Goldman, who represents District 9 in western Wake County, which includes part of Cary. "They're writing e-mails, calling and coming to meetings over an issue that's not an issue."

Goldman says she supports magnet schools and has not heard any opposition to them from any other board members. Several other board members confirm there's been no discussion to get rid of them.

"I'll tell you, my own child attends a magnet school, so that should tell you right there the value I place on the magnet program," Goldman said.

It's a relief to parents like Renberg.

"Because we not only have Spanish here, but we're an (international baccalaureate) school, so global awareness is really important," she said. "I think it'll serve them well all their life."

Since it's first meeting in early December with a new majority, the board has made what some have called sweeping changes to school system policies.

Two years ago, Wake County converted 22 elementary and middle schools to year-round schedules, and officials ordered all new schools to operate on that calendar.

Administrators defended the controversial move to go to a mandatory year-round calendar by saying it would help the school system keep up with enrollment growth and save money on school construction since year-round schools can accommodate more students than traditional-calendar schools.

At its first meeting, in December, board members voted to reverse the policy that new schools be year-round.

It has also decided to survey parents about their attitudes toward the year-round calendar so that it can make what board members have called better decisions in the future.

The board also wants to change Wake County's decade-old busing policy, in which students are transferred to schools across districts to help achieve socio-economic diversity among student populations.

The board majority favors neighborhood schools, where students would be assigned to schools closer to where they live.