Education

Blog: Tedesco lays out his vision for creating community-based school zones

Posted April 23, 2010 5:23 a.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2010 9:37 p.m. EDT

— Board member John Tedesco is showing colleagues how his assignment committee will begin to devise a plan over the next year to implement a new policy of community-based student assignment. "I think we have an opportunity to work with our county commissioners and local governments" to plan together for services in low-income areas.

The board should create a "bigger vision," he said. "I don't have all the answers today," but there is an opportunity to work together.

5:30 Verifying data so the process moves forward

Anne McLaurin told Tedesco that some of the data he cited about student achievement "is not completely accurate" and needs to be confirmed by the district staff before he presents it at public meeting.

Tedesco said he would check, but was confident because he had read the numbers himself.

A few members of the public asked Tedesco questions.

One said that the current policy for assignment, which emphasizes diversity, is agreeable with Tedesco's goals and doesn't need to be changed. What the board has done is to adopt a resolution favoring community-based attendance and told the committee headed by Tedesco to figure out how to implement it. The board's Policy Committee is still working on the wording of a new assignment policy that will reflect the majority's intentions.

5:15 Looking to learn from other cities' work

Tedesco introduced Associate Prof. Atila Abdulkadiroglu of Duke University's economics department, who he said has worked with Boston, New York City and other large schools systems on building attendance models.

“Choice gives you a platform to find a middle ground” between all  local attendance and achieving diversity, Abdulkadiroglu said.

Board member Anne McLaurin congratulated Tedesco on achieving student achievement as the overall goal. She noted, however, that the county lacks diversity in some areas, with concentrations of poverty, and the school system has to deal with that.

"This is a starting point for building a plan. This is not a plan," Tedesco said as he concluded.

5.:00 Seeking to have assignment process be a "we" thing

The student assignment committee will meet in May and June, Tedesco said, to hear experts from around the country to talk about community-based attendance models. Then, he said, the panel will take about three months to begin working out a mechanism for assignment, listening to community input on the details.

They also, he said, will look at budget impacts and any policy changes that might be needed. There should be seven to nine public meetings, including ones with interest groups that include teachers, he said. After that, the committee will start in again on planning.

"I want this to be 'we' thing. I want this to be a 'we' opportunity for the community," Tedesco said.

4:45 Working with other government bodies

Tedesco said that where there are concentrations of poverty, the system should offer multiple choices for attendance. He also said it is up to the board, the county commissioners and local governments to plan together to serve communities.

"We need to work together. We need to use our schools as centers of community," he said. The different branches of government should coordinate, he said.

4:30 Current tools used in a new way

Tedesco began with an apology for what he acknowledged was a somewhat rough start to the process of assigning students to schools on the basis of community assignment zones rather than focusing on achieving socio-economic balance.

He said he had studied attendance systems from around the country in finding "a new way to move forward."

He acknowledged that concentrations of students from poor homes face special problems, but he said that does not justify treating those students as special group as a form of discrimination.

Too often, Tedesco said, quoting an author of business books, too many organizations settle for good and stop striving for great.

"As a  community, we value cultural integration," but the community also values community.

A pure community model can lead to segregation, he said, but a pure choice model can lead to "privileged classes."

"Our current system uses primarily blunt tools" to move large groups. It lacks the ability for "fine tuning" to meet students' needs, Tedesco said. The district's average of 17.5 percent non-involvement is nearly twice the national average, he said.

Meanwhile, some schools are under-enrolled and achievement is too low anyway, Tedesco told the board.

The tools for creating a community assignment system, he said, uses geographic boundaries, a "selective algorithm"and parental choice. The rigid system creates what he called "node civil war" as parents try to get their children into schools they want.

It is possible, Tedesco said, to create an algorithm that "encompasses our community's values." "We have a unique opportunity here to start to put our values into the process."

There also, he said, are better ways that the district can measure equity between attendance zones.

Among the techniques Tedesco outlines were themed academies and alternative schools. Having 21,000 suspensions last year and putting students onto the street is not an answer to problems, he said.

People will get a base assignment -- their default school assignments -- within their zones. However, he said, year-round schools offer a strong draw to move students. Magnet schools do that as well, he said.

Then, he said, the system can give an elementary school year-round choice in every zone.

 Tedesco talked about having "softer" geographic areas for attendance than the current nodes the county uses. The assignment committee will draw the zones using community input, he said.

Resources, including buses, might be realigned according to the zones, he suggested.

He listed five objectives for the project.

  • Better align systems for efficient service delivery
  • Set policy and planning in agreement with "internal and external community goals."
  • Have 95 percent of schools stay as they are.
  • Consider about 5 percent of schools for a change, such as making new magnet schools.
  • Have 85 to 95 percent of students not be affected by forced reassignments.

How then, can the system balance poverty to avoid isolation, he asked.

He said that the goal is to achieve a better balance of resources within attendance zones.  Students in the zones should have preference for those schools, he said.

Tedesco referred to a "layered" system of zones and could use parents' applications preferences to make decisions about how to manage the resources in the zones. He spoke of  trying to "drive choice in the preference process" used by parents.

Maps Tedesco showed suggested ways he thinks the district could construct attendance zones. He said his suggestion is to start with high school attendance zones and to combine two high schools when dealing with pockets of poverty.

All of the presentation, Tedesco stressed several times, is theoretical and does not represent specific plans.

The meeting agenda had said Tedesco would explain "how he will lead through the planning process over the next 9-15 months."

Carolyn Morrison, vice chairwoman of the board's student assignment committee, issued a statement Friday morning, saying, "My vision for the future is that we have a system with a diverse student body in all schools. Such a system will better prepare our students to be successful in our global society.

"While this task may not be easy, I believe it is achievable," she wrote.

Morrison, and board members Kevin Hill, Anne McLaurin and Keith Sutton voted against changing student assignment.

Tedesco, Board of Education Chairman Ron Margiotta, and members Debra Goldman, Chris Malone and and Deborah Prickett voted in favor of the change.