Advocates of community schools gather in thanks

A group of parents who support change in student assignment gathered Wednesday to praise the actions of the Wake County Board of Education.

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APEX, N.C. — A group of parents who support change in student assignment gathered Wednesday to praise the actions of the Wake County Board of Education.

The board voted a second and final time Tuesday night to work toward a model of community-based schools in favor of the county's decade-old policy of assigning students to achieve socio-economic diversity.

It was an outcome that pleased members of WakeCARES, a group that backed the four candidates who, along with board chairman Ron Margiotta, now form a majority in favor of community schools.

Members of the group held a news conference in Apex to affirm their gratitude for the board's action.

"We've got a new system," said parent Patrice Lee, one of the three co-founders of WakeCARES.

"We need to quit fighting it and embrace it and try to make it work," she said.

Opponents of the new majority warn that a change in policy could create pockets of poverty and low-income, high-minority schools.

They are concerned about the lack of specifics.

"We've seen no plan, no data to support even moving forward with the plan and we've seen no assessment of costs," Patty Williams said. She represents the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a group opposed to the board's decision.

"We're not going to relent in our pursuit in what's right for all those children and the community at large," she said.

John Tedesco, the author of the resolution, said the new majority's vision is to give parents choices and that busing students to achieve diversity hasn't been working.

Board members Deborah Prickett, Chris Malone and Debra Goldman joined Tedesco and Margiotta in Tuesday's vote. Board members Keith Sutton, Kevin Hill, Anne McLaurin and Carolyn Morrison voted against the change.

Tedesco said the board will decide the specifics of a new assignment policy over the next nine to 15 months and would begin to implement their new strategy in the 2011-2012 school year.

Over time, Tedesco said, less than 10 percent of students would have to be reassigned. Students who did move to a school closer to home would do so as they completed an educational level, so that a student might stay at one elementary school and be reassigned before middle school, he said. 

He anticipates the school system would see costs savings on student transportation and bus fleet maintenance. Sending students to schools within 5 or 6 miles of their homes would streamline busing, Tedesco said.

The current student assignment policy is based on the level of students receiving free- or reduced-price lunches at any one school. Under the plan, students are reassigned each year to maintain that level of socio-economic diversity, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

Lee acknowledged that raw feelings exist on both sides of the debate.

"I think there's a lot of mending that needs to take place," she said. "I think there's a lot of understanding that needs to go on."


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