Wake County Schools

Blog: Jan. 10 Wake school board meeting

After a long afternoon work session the Wake County school board agreed the new student assignment plan will move forward on January 17th.

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Wake County Public School System
CARY, N.C.Student Assignment Plan Discussion:
The Plan Moves Forward

Based on all of the conversation board chairman Kevin Hill says the plan will move forward on January 17th with the promise that it will have constant monitoring and evaluation and that adjustments can be made if needed. That decision came out of a four and a half hour work session, before the board moved into the main meeting room for a full public meeting.

Public Information Requests:

The board wrapped up the meeting by  continuing a public information request conversation from the work session. Board member Debra Goldman said her primary concern about public information requests stems from Jim Martin asking questions via email about how others handle requests and whether Wake County needed to release as much as they have. Martin said his question came in response to someone requesting all of his emails and concern about student information contained within some possibility becoming public record.

Amendments to Contracts for Special Needs Students:
The board approved expanding contracts with three nursing companies and a developmental assistance company to include additional students.

By law Wake County Public Schools is required to provide nursing services necessary for any student to attend public school.

Public Comment:

The first hour of Tuesday night's school board meeting is dedicated to public comment. 20 people signed up to speak, most on issues related to the new student assignment plan.

Charter middle school student, Ellie Buckner, said she will not have the option of going to the same high school as most others in her neighborhood under the new plan because seats will not be available for those not already tied to the feeder school. She and other students and parents argue charter school students are being treated unfairly under the new plan.

Ellen Wentz of Cary spoke on behalf of Carpenter Elementary School parents who want their feeder pattern changed to feed into Davis Drive Middle School before the new plan begins. Other supporters have spoke out at several meetings, also saying the want the option of feeding into the middle school that is closer to their homes.

Because of numerous comments on the charter school concern John Tedesco asked the superintendent to clarify the priority for charter students moving into a Wake County high school. Tata said it appears most of that concern is based on students looking at the current number or students in feeder patterns and not taking into account the number of students who will make choices away to different schools. Tata said charter students are still treated the same as others when it comes to proximity under the new plan.

Offer to Purchase Property in Mecklenburg County:

The Wake County school board received property in the Mecklenburg County town of Matthews that once belonged to former State House speaker Jim Black. The judge in his case accepted the property, once valued at around $500 thousand, as part of required his required fines. Wake County gives a portion of fines and forfeitures paid to benefit schools. The town of Matthews offered to buy the 9.5 acres for $295,427. The board voted to reject that offer and hold out for more money.

Based on questions generated from the January 3rd student assignment plan work session, task force members addressed eight primary questions with recommendations.

1) Staff recommends keeping current time lines in place for implementing the plan.

The superintendent says delaying the number of days or weeks that parents can make selections would have a significant impact on families, principals, and schools. Tata says the 6 week process is designed to give parents the maximum amount of time to review and pick the best option for their children, to give outreach staff enough time to get more people involved in areas where participation is low, and to allow staff to monitor choice trends and make adjustments to increase participation.

Board member Jim Martin argued not changing anything will also have an impact on families, principals, and school. Martin says the decision to move forward has already been made, and the concern is only about mitigating negative impact.  
Cris Mulder, Chief of Family and Public Engagement, says that it is important to be able to clearly tell parents whether the plan is moving forward on schedule as they work to increase awareness and understanding of the plan.

Martin said he still has concerns about capacity issues and the magnet school program in general. Debra Goldman raised concern about the tone of questions raised by some board members, and said it is important to let staff handle the detailed work. Goldman also questioned the use of Michael Alves staff and software in the process. Alves is an education consultant who developed the choice model on which Wake County's new plan is based. At last week's work session Goldman challenged a meeting with Alves, Hill and the three newly elected school board members that did not include other members. Hill pointed out that other members had the chance to meet with Alves early last year. At Tuesday's meeting Goldman asked Tata if he had approved an supported that meeting in advance. Tata acknowledged he new the specifics before the meeting. Hill again defended the meeting saying it was purely intended to bring new members up to speed.

2) Staff clarified the definition of 1.5 miles for the proximity priority in the selection process. It is defined as the area around the school is defined as 1.5 miles or less in driving distance. Because choice lists are determined based on center of the node driving distance to schools it is possible that some families may live within 1.5 miles of the school via straight line distance, yet bot be within a 1.5 mile driving distance from the school. Proximity to the closest school is still based on specific addresses.
3) Another question centered the criteria used to examine feeder pattern efficiency and how the district will evaluate if and when a change should be recommended. The task force staff says there is specific criteria built into monitoring and evaluation plan. People from several neighborhoods throughout the county have raised concern about the feeder patterns designated under the new plan. The staff recommends maintaining those approved feeder patterns for the 2012-2013 school year continue monitoring and evaluating the patterns for possible changes later if needed. Martin asked whether they could really guarantee parents feeder patterns from kindergarten through 12th grade if they are going to monitor feeder patterns and make needed adjustments if needed in the first few years. Hill said it is important to clarify that point for parents who may be making school choices based on the long-term feeder patterns. Tata says while it is important closely monitor and make changes to any problem areas identified in the future it is also important to assure parents that feeder patterns will be kept. Susan Evans said because staff is telling the board the plan must move forward on the current time-line, there won't be enough time to make adjustments now, so it is important to tell parents feeder pattern changes can be made after the first year.
4) At least one board member asked if families are not interested in following their year-round or magnet pathway what options would be available for traditional calendar/ proximity schools. Staff answered that families have several school options available and can participate in the choice process to make a change.
5) Another question: How is the district preparing to assist families that do not have transportation based on their pre-assignments for middle and high school, specific to rising 6th and 9th graders that are pre-assigned to the approved feeder pattern school? There are about 600 rising 6th grade and 550 rising high school students who received assignments based on their current school feeder patterns that will not be available on their choice list under the new plan. The board is charged with deciding if and how those students will still be guaranteed transportation to those schools.
6) Board members raised questions about the thresholds/ benchmarks recommended for monitoring schools and the interventions in place or recommended for schools that do not meet those benchmarks. Staff recommends following the suggestion of the board chairman to establish a community-based advisory board that will work with staff to create specific benchmarks to monitor and evaluate things like student achievement, facilities, and staffing.
7) Another big question from from several board members is about the number of set aside seats for students from lower performing areas in higher performing schools (called regional choice schools in the new plan). This is the core reason board chair Kevin Hill cited for voting against the plan. Task force staff said setting aside seats will increase the probability that students in low-performing nodes will be seated at regional choice schools. They recommend that if the board decides to implement a “set aside” at high-performing regional choice schools that the target value should be 15% of seats.

Martin raised concerns about the set aside option in general, saying that some schools already have more seats available than others. Martin says the option is too simplistic. Board member Susan Evans asked if it might be possible just to give all students from the lower performing areas equal priority as those students who live closest to the regional choice school.

8) Finally the board wanted to know the possible impact of moving achievement up in the priorities used to seat students under through the choice selection process. Staff told the board that moving the priority without controls could have a negative impact and recommends the set aside option instead as a more efficient method of prioritizing student achievement.

School Board Work Session 1:00 p.m.
The Wake County School Board is meeting for a work session Tuesday to discuss a full plate of issues.
The new student assignment plan is likely to get the most attention.

Superintendent Tony Tata and his staff will address and discuss a list of questions and concerns from school board members about the new choice-based student assignment plan. Wake County parents are scheduled to begin ranking school choices on January 17th. Tata will first address the question the potential impact of delaying the start of the selection process. The superintendent says delaying the number of days or weeks that parents can make selections would have a significant impact on families, principals, and schools. Tata says the 6 week process is designed to give parents the maximum amount of time to review and pick the best option for their children, to give outreach staff enough time to get more people involved in areas where participation is low, and to allow staff to monitor choice trends and make adjustments to increase participation.

Joint Meetings With Board of County Commissioners:

School Board Chairman Kevin Hill proposed resuming joint meetings with leadership of the school board and county commissioners to discuss issues that impact both including the budget. Written record of the discussions would be shared by all board members.

Board Committee Structure:
The board discussed switching back to the former committee structure to include more small group meetings.

Last year the board voted to end individual committee meetings at the recommendation of superintendent Tony Tata to save staff time and money. The board instead began discussing all issues at the committee of the whole meeting, or work sessions. At the first board retreat with three newly elected board members in December, some members asked about the possibility of adding back the individual committee meetings.  Those in favor say it will allow more time to prepare issues before action meetings, helping increase efficiency.

Enrollment Projections for WCPSS Operating and Capital Expenditures:

Staff presented the school board with an annual report of projected growth. The school system uses those numbers to help determine required budgets and new school needs. The projected enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year is 150,418, an increase of 3,731 students from this year. The data show nearly 190 thousand students could be enrolled in Wake County schools by 2015.

Request for Legislative Change:

Dr. Stephen Gainey, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources presented a letter to be sent from board members asking lawmakers to make an exception for teacher vacation time. Current state statute prohibits teachers from using vacation days while students are in session that would require a substitute teacher. Gainey said year-round teachers are restricted from using annual vacation leave because students are in attendance on all but about 20 weekdays, including holidays and teacher workdays.

Harvard Project Grant:

Wake County Public Schools was one of ten school systems in the country selected  for a Harvard Strategic Data Project District grant. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard will invest nearly $700 thousand over the next two years for professional development, travel, faculty advising and in-depth analysis for the district.

Amendments to Contracts for Special Needs Students:

By law Wake County Public Schools is required to provide nursing services necessary for any student to attend public school. Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, Lisa M. Grillo presented some contract amendments needed to add new students. Two additional students will require increasing a nursing contract with Bayada Nurse Inc. by about $105 thousand. Another new student will require an additional $50 thousand dollar contract with I Am Unique Special Care. One additional student is being added to the Pediatric Services of America nursing contract at a cost of about an additional $53 thousand. They also asked the board to increase a contract with Learning Together Inc. by about $65 thousand to increase the maximum number of students served to include an additional seven children.


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