Wake County Schools

Blog: Wake schools committee votes to begin moving neighborhoods

After a 2-1 vote to change some current attendance areas among zones on a proposed attendance map, Wake County school board members on the Student Assignment Committee went through a list to decide which areas they voted to include.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Who goes to school where and whether that is where they want to go took center stage Tuesday as the Wake school board's Committee Assignment Committee began a twice-monthly meeting schedule in its effort to figure out how the 140,000-student system will implement the system's new community-based assignment model.

Schools are currently in the second of three years of an assignment plan based on the previous model that emphasized socioeconomic diversity in schools, but the board majority that pushed through the change to community-based assignments has said it hopes to begin implementing at least part of the new approach next fall.

The whole plan is scheduled to go into effect for fall 2012.

2:15 p.m. -- "Let's move those lines. Then we'll look at capacity problems at the next meeting," Chairman John Tedesco said of changes approved in a 2-1 vote. He referred to proposed attendance zone lines on a map posted on the district's website and based on current high school attendance zones.

The meeting then adjourned without reaching several items on its agenda, including financial aspects of community-based assignments and when and how to run a "community-engagement" process.

2 p.m. -- "This isn't a move yet. This is about making a plan!" Chairman Tedesco said after the committee voted 2-1 to moved current assignment nodes within the proposed assignment zones. After the vote, John Tedesco asked board members at the meeting if they wanted nodes in their districts moved. The committee went through a list of attendance nodes that staff had offered as examples of areas where people had comments on the proposed map for community-based attendance.

What was involved in the vote changed as Tedesco led a discussion of the nodes in the staff's examples. They decided to change some while letting others stay for now.

When it came to nodes in the district of Carolyn Morrison, who voted against making changes today, she told Tedesco that the committee was moving too fast and she did not know whether certain nodes should be moved.

"Do you want them moved or not?" board member Chris Malone asked Morrison. Tedesco said moves would be made, but Malone then said the changes shouldn't happen if Morrison had no input.

It is too soon to have public meetings to explain the proposed assignment maps, Tedesco told members who urged him to being the public involvement process. They debated whether a proposed map on the district's website accurately reflects current assignments, and they objected to a proposal Tedesco made to make some adjustments today based on e-mails read at the meeting. Administrators had said that comments they explained in detail earlier in the meeting were examples, not representative of all comments.

Tedesco and member Chris Malone voted for the changes, which were not specified until after Tedesco's motion. The third board member who has a vote, Carolyn Morrison, voted against it.

The action brought protests from several of the non-voting community members.

"There is no reason for us to come in here," member Anne Sherron said. "You know what you're going to do when you come in here."

1:30 p.m. -- It seems premature to be talking about moving nodes and lines" now, one committee member said. The map the committee decided to use was called a "shell plan" and is not ready for those changes, she added.

The panel needs to have more discussions about assignment criteria and how transfer requests will be handled before moving lines on the map, Chairman John Tedesco said, but he added that small shifts to fix problems as they are discovered. Other members said any change makes parents anxious, but Tedesco said that addressing issues will help reduce anxiety.

"It give us a chance to show the public that we meant what we said" about the proposed map being fluid, Tedesco said.

"We all bring our lists of adjustments to the table," one member said.

"We don't want to play 'student assignment whack-a-mole,'" citizen member Anne Sherron said.

Board  member Keith Sutton said the Wake system has not looked at how other systems handle assignment systems similar to what Wake is attempting. Palm Beach, Fla., he noted has an advisory committee to deal with boundary lines.

"I'd love to be able to study Charlotte," Sherron said. Charlotte has encountered assignment-policy problems Wake does not want to repeat, she said.

1:20 p.m. -- "I see viable, credible discussion," Chairman John Tedesco said of the comments. "This is something we're going to have to consider." The committee can make some moves of old attendance "nodes" today, he said, while other issues will take time to resolve.

Picking up on a comment by Laura Evans, the system's planning director, that some requests "make sense," board member Keith Sutton asked if the staff can help sort what falls into the "sense" category to help members cut down on e-mail reading.

"We could probably take until tomorrow discussing this whole area," one community member told the group. The subject is best for a community information meeting, "and this is an opportunity" to inform people who are confused about the new policy and how it is to be implemented. It should happen in thet "couple of weeks," she said.

1:10 p.m. -- Committee members and administrator Laura Evans got into examples of comments received from the public about tentative assignment maps, where people are asking to be assigned as their "community" schools and how those possible changes affect the capacity in each zone. Small changes can make schools overcrowded, she emphasized.

She showed the committee a map from the district's website that shows proposed new zones on top of current attendance nodes, then discussed examples of neighborhoods asking to be moved and how those would affect crowding.

Overall, the district expects to run out of school seats in the 2014-15 school year and be thousands of seats short by 2019-20 without new construction or other steps.

12:55 p.m. -- Laura Evans, the district's planning chief, showed committee members a three-ring binder several inches thick with public comments received since the committee's last meeting. Members should get all comments to read because the staff does not feel comfortable trying to filter or organize the flood of comments coming in about the assignment policy debate. "I don't want to be accused of a conspiracy" for sorting some e-mails in or out, Evans noted with a smile.

Board member Carolyn Morrison said she had spent six hours Monday reading comments online and concluded the vast majority of people are "furious." Chairman John Tedesco countered that people who like the plan are unlikely to comment and that the district's website is more likely to draw opponents.

The committee asked about having committee members see all comments online, but members debated whether it should be password-protected to limit access. E-mails are public record, but some student information is confidential. Administrators said, however, that parents are free to disclose any information about their children when writing an e-mail.

There also was debate about whether people posting comments know their e-mails are public record.

The committee decided to keep the public's comments confidential pending advice from school board attorney Ann Majestic.

12:30 p.m. -- Staff gave the committee information it had sought about schools' proficiency in the various proposed regions and smaller zones for community-based assignment. The committee is working for now with a map that would create five regions based on high-school assignment areas and zones within each region.

As board member Debra Goldman asked about the data, citizen members who have been on previous assignment committees explained that achievement numbers do not break out poor students from the overall achievement. The committee got pages and pages of proficiency information to digest.

As an example for explaining the data, the staff used Athens Drive Elementary School. The pages broke out students who are in the current base assignment areas for the school and students who are assigned out because there are not enough seats. Laura Evans, the district's growth and planning director, cautioned the committee that fact emphasizes the issues that can arise in trying to draw community-based zones and thinking about how many students can go to schools in the zone.

David Holdzkom, the system's chief of achievement, cautioned the committee about reading too much into numbers as the pages break out figures.

"Thank you. This is great. I'm overwhelmed," one citizen member told administrators, drawing chuckles around the room.

David Ansbacher, head of the district's magnet school program, presented numbers about achievement of students in those schools and how many students in each school's base area were accepted for the magnet program.

12 p.m. -- Committee Chair John Tedesco asked the board's Policy Committee to devise a policy for the system he outlined, but the board has abolished all its standing committees, including Policy. He then asked member Debra Goldman, the board's staff liaison for policy under the new system, to work with administrators to draft one and bring it to the board.

Some committee members asked how reassignment could improve performance. Tedesco said the system also needs stability for families. One committee member noted that underachieving schools on a list Tedesco distributed all have high percentages of poor children. The district uses eligibility for free or reduce-price lunches as a way to measure poverty.

"We need to consider what needs to happen to make these schools successful," Tedesco said. He said that many have been below standards for four or five years.

"I see four or five years continuing to go on with nothing happening," one member told Tedesco. There is a connection between poverty and performance, she said.

"This information needs to be here ... but we're sitting here at a Student Assignment Committee meeting," citizen member Anne Sherron said. "This seems to be the tail wagging the dog."

"We're not trying to draft" the improvement policy, Tedesco said, but student assignment is not a way to get better performance.

You have to take into account poverty," board member Keith Sutton said. The poorest districts do the poorest in achievement, he said. "How are we going to take poverty into account?"

Tedesco asked what Sutton's way of addressing poverty would be. Another community member said that it probably isn't possible to achieve all low-poverty schools as a way to address achievement.

"Why would we concentrate" low achievers in one classroom to give teachers bigger challenges, a member asked the group. "I think we setting teachers up ... for failure."

I think what we're doing is setting ourselves up" to evaluate teachers to understand who teaches low-achievers best, Tedesco said. "We need to get the right teachers in front of the right kids."


11:40 a.m. -- Chairman John Tedesco began the meeting. Four school board members who are not on the committee attended, along with the three who are members and the nine citizen members who represent each of the board members' districts.

Tedesco said the committee would take up both assignment and the financial implications of it. Critics of the new plan have charged that among other issues with which they disagree, the board had not addressed what it may cost to move students to schools closer to their homes than some have attended.

Starting points for upcoming meeting will cover choice for families within school zones, countywide choice of magnet schools, capacity of schools, proximity to schools and giving nearest families priority, aligning schools by program and considering where siblings go or have gone to school.

East Wake schools will need to be county application schools because of growth expected there and school capacity, Tedesco said. He suggested setting aside perhaps 40 percent of seats in that zone for applicants. Planners say that the eastern side of the county will be the next high-growth area.

Policy alignment will be needed for the new system, Tedesco said. Specifically, he cited academic accountability, transportation, growth planning, transfers and appeals and leadership.

“We ultimately care about our kids,” Tedesco said.

“I think we have serious disagreement,” Tedesco said. There are two views of “how we move forward with student assignment in this county.” There are those who see distribution as a solution to student achievement, Tedesco said, calling it a “quota” system. He said he disagrees.

“I’m going to recommend an academic accountability model” for all students, Tedesco said. Every school needs to be held accountable for meeting the goal regardless of the makeup of the student body.

“As a system, we have to be held accountable for getting those kids to proficiency,” he said.

If a school falls below the rating, Tedesco said, he thinks there should be a mandatory curriculum audit. That might require changes in curriculum, management or teachers, he added.





Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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