Wake County Schools

Blog: Districtwide test results put Wake in Title I program

In addition to schools having to meet student-performance goals for minority students, the district is rated as "one big school," administrators told the school board.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education had a full plate of business for its semi-monthly work session Tuesday, with student assignment, superintendent selection and capital planning on the agenda along with numerous other items.

The school district staff has told members that the system will need 33 new schools by 2020 to accommodate the number of students expected by then. Elementary, middle and high schools will go over their capacities in 2013-14 or 2014-15, facilities chief Don Haydon has reported.

5:20 p.m. -- The district is being held to the same student-achievement goals as each school is under the federal Title I program for improving performance, the board was told in a presentation on school improvement.

"Think of the district as one, big school," Title I coordinator Willi Webb told the board.

"How does a district get in district improvement?" she asked. It happens when the district's students as one group miss achievement goals for two years in a row in math, though reading scores have improved,

Results for 2009-10 put the district into the improvement status, Webb said.

Being in Title I brings some extra money to the district, and 10 percent of it must be used for staff improvement, Dawn Dawson, head of state and federal programs, said.

5 p.m. -- The board got a rundown of policies that will be affected by a board decision to change how it defines long-term suspensions. The board decided to give administrators an option between a 10-day and a full-year suspension for conduct or criminal violations.

Member John Tedesco asked administrators to report how the system could find more education alternatives for suspended students so they are not away from learning. Marvin Connelly, who is in charge of the program, said suspensions are down. Critics have said that tossing students out of school completely puts them on the streets and makes them vulnerable to gang recruitment.

4:55 p.m. -- The board's Superintendent Search Committee has agreed how to move forward with steps to finding a replacement for Del Burns, who resigned after the board majority voted in November to change from a diversity-based assignment policy to a community-based model.

Heidrick & Struggles, a consulting firm hired by the board, has been interviewing people interested in the job. People from the firm met with the committee last week, but no names have been made public.

The plan calls for Heidrick & Struggles to list five to 10 candidates that the committee will narrow to three to five people, committee chair Debra Goldman said. The full board will interview the short list in closed meetings using prepared questions, she said. Any follow-up meetings also will be closed, but questions will be less rigid, she added.

The committee will meet Nov. 1, Goldman said, and Heidrick & Struggles will present names then and some video presentations. She urged all board members to be there. After that, Goldman explained, the committee will begin writing the questions that each candidate will get.

Goldman asked if e-mail suggestions from other board members for candidate questions would be a public record, and board attorney Ann Majestic said the issue was a hard question to answer. Goldman said she did not want candidates to see questions ahead of time and prepare answers.

"I suppose the mere fact that someone is throwing out a possible question" does not tell candidates what the final questions will be, Majestic said. But she added, "For me, this is a real challenge." The interview process can be confidential, Majestic said, but should the question-writing process be closed? "If we do a lot of pre-work on it, it makes it more difficult," the attorney said.

"I think it would be important to have consultation" from Heidrick & Struggles on how to have a nine-member board agree on questions, Majestic said.

Interviews can be kept confidential, Majestic said, "So why would the guts of that process" be public?

Member John Tedesco said there could be other issues to be decided before interviews, such as salary, and Majestic agreed. "You don't want to fall in love with somebody" before knowing the budget, she told the board.

The board got some extra insight from Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens, who interviewed a few months ago for the top administrative job in the New Hanover county schools and was a finalist there. The board wanted to know how its New Hanover counterpart handled closed and public discussions.

4:25 p.m. -- Board member Kevin Hill said "there has been questions" in the media and through e-mail about "what the next steps will be" for student assignment for 2012-13 and beyond, and he proposed a process "for how we can talk about what will come after 2011 and 12."

"You know, I'm a teacher, and you've got to have a handout," Hill joked as he passed around a proposal for other members.

Questions about "where are we," "where do we want to go" and "how do we get there" are the basis for the process, Hill said.

"If you look at a decision-making process, that's all this is for," Hill said. "It is incumbent upon us to find a way to come together," Hill told other members, and added that requires a process for reaching goals.

"We're not look at node numbers. We're not looking at addresses," Hill said of his proposed first step. The second step would show what is negotiable and what is not and what a plan would cost, he said. "It's going to take a generation to get back to where we were with spending," Hill predicted.

Then, "What do we mean by community schools? What do we mean by equity?" will have to be decided, Hill added.

"If we don't find a way to reach consensus," the board "will make bad decisions for our community," Hill said.

Chairman Ron Margiotta told Hill that discussion of his plan will be on the agenda for the next board work session. No one objected, bringing jokes about "a 9-0 vote" by the board.

4:15 p.m. -- The always-controversial topic of student assignment came back to the board as it heard a presentation of current assignment planning and years beyond.

The 2011-12 school year will be the third year of a three-year assignment plan approved by the former school board when socio-economic diversity was an assignment goal. The board membership changed last November, and anew majority set a goal of community-based assignments and dropped diversity in each school. The implementation process for the new system has stalled after complaints that it was moving too quickly and did not have enough community and board input. A different five-member majority voted Oct. 5 to put on the brakes.

Don Haydon, who is in charge of facilities for the district, noted that the three-year plan assumed three new schools being available, but that schedule has changed. Walnut Creek Elementary School will open next year, growth-planning director Laura Evans said, but Rolesville Middle School will not open until the 2012-13 year, and another high school in Rolesville will not be on line until the 2013-14 years.

Evans went trough a packet of planned assignment changes based on each school's opening. Walnut Creek, she explained, will get students from Aversboro Elementary School, Barwell Road Elementary School and east Garner Elementary. In addition, "back-filling" will bring other assignment changes in a "domino effect," Evans said.

Magnet schools also are affected in the 2011-12 plan, Evans said.

Member John Tedesco said the numbers of moves concerned concerned him because it will result in several under-enrolled schools in his district and that may affect programs and tracks in year-round schools.

"We have a brand-new school" but some students in its area will not be assigned there, member Deborah Prickett said. Prickett is among four members elected last year on a platform of supporting community-based assignments.

Evans and Haydon outlined a plan that calls for talking to the board Nov. 9 about the assignment process for next year. Community meetings would be held later in November for the staff to get feedback from the public about new-school assignments and some crowding issues, Haydon said. In December, the staff would report to the board on what it heard and recommend any revisions to the 2011-12 assignment plan.

"It's sort of modeled" on what has been done for the previous six or seven years for getting public input, Haydon said. he said he envisioned the public sessions as "workshops" with two-way dialog.

"These meetings are for the '11-'12 assignment," Evans stressed. "This tweaking the '11-'12 year." Setting up a new multiyear plan for 2012-13 and beyond will be up to the board, she added.

3:40 p.m. -- Facilities chief Don Haydon updated the board on the district's capital planning program as projections show shortages arising in the next four to five years.

"The assumptions for buildings are all driven by programs," he told the board. Curriculum audits that suggest changes and student-assignment changes affect that, he said.

Soon, he said, the staff will send board members a draft plan that involves about 20 assumptions that went into planning.

"This really becomes the board's guidance to staff" for planning, he said of work-session discussions he hopes the board will have in the next two or three months. "What do we build a school around?" is the primary question, Haydon added.

He ran through a list of assumptions, such as full-day kindergarten, spaces for special-needs students and infrastructure upgrades. What goal does the board want to set for how many students can be put in trailer classrooms is involved, too, Haydon said. The board wondered aloud whether it had any discretion about kindergarten or if full-day classes are state-mandated.

Should the system plan on using 100 percent of seats in schools or stay with trying to leave 5 percent empty to give administrators flexibility and to accommodate changes during the school year. Year-round or traditional schedules affect capital planning, he said, as do goals for renovations and how often they should happen. The size of new schools is another decision to be made.

Should the district stay with its past standard of needing usable area of 20 acres for elementary schools, 30 acres for middle schools and 64 acres for a high school, Haydon said.

The school system will use population planning data from the Institute for Transportation Planning and Research at N.C. State University because it is proving accurate, Haydon said. This year, he added, its projections were within one-tenth of 1 percent of actual numbers.

Chairman Ron Margiotta suggested that the next joint meeting of the school board and county commissioners is when the two boards should begin talking about a future bond issue. Haydon has told both boards that projections show Wake will need 33 new schools by the 2019-20 school year or it will be short abut 60,000 seats.

"Why can't we as a system do a full-capacity audit" counting every seat in every room, member Debra Goldman asked Haydon. Margiotta recalled previous discussions that showed "closets" were the size of classrooms some times.

"We do that pretty much on a continuing basis," Haydon said.

What size bond referendum and when to try to have it approved figure large in the discussion, Margiotta and Haydon agreed.

2:55 p.m. --Danny Barnes, chief area assistant superintendent, gave the board a rundown on the district's work creating state-mandated school improvement plans for each schools. Every school in the state must have a plan for getting better, and it has to be updated every few years.

Some high schools, however, Barnes said, will ask for waivers from a requirement for 135 "clock hours" of instruction to get credit for a course. Early release days, snow days and other issues make that standard -- which he said is 90 days of 90-minute classes each semester -- nearly impossible to meet, he said, and the state regularly grants waivers for credit to be based on students' learning course material instead.

"We don't want to do anything less," Barnes said, but sometimes it is not possible. For example, sometimes calendars mean schools have 89 days of instruction in one semester and 90 or 91 days in another.

2:45 p.m. -- Part of the state's $400 million in federal "Race to the Top" funds will go to creating a "cloud" computing environment for data storage that could reduce the district's need for data storage, fiscal chief David Neter told the board.

The state also will be developing instructional and administrative "tools" will $235 of the $400 million that it will hold before distributing the rest of the money to school systems, Neter said. One thing it might include is outsourced e-mail service that would cut district costs, he added.

The district has to submit information by the end of November about what it will do with $10.2 million it expects to receive.

"We have been encouraged" to use some of the money for a temporary "Race to the Top coordinator" to manage the meshing of the district's systems and state-built infrastructure, Neter said. Wake plans to put such a position in its budget, but will not hire anyone until it sees how big an issue that is, he explained.

The $10.2 million has limits on what Wake can do with the money, "but it's not going to help us through the economic crisis" as state funding for schools falls, Neter said.

"A significant portion of what we must do is effectively implement the infrastructure they're creating," Neter told member Debra Goldman. "We're open to what we can do as long as we work within prescribed areas," Neter said.

"It will not impact in any material shape or form our system" because the $10.2 million is spread over four years and amounts to about $18 per student, he said.

"It's about" having better facilities after the Race to the Top money is used up, Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens told the board.

"Much of this money will enhance what we've already been doing," Hargens said.

The district already has professional staff in place to implement new programs from the state, she said.

One freedom Wake has, Hargens said, is that it is not on any of three state lists of low-performing districts that are limited in how they much use their money.

Hargens laid about a "five-pillar" strategy for using the money. Four "pillars" are required, she said. The fifth pillar is a Wake-only plan for what she called "the Wake County Renaissance Model" to help schools in which students are not performing as well as the board wants.

"Our goal is to create schools in which we can have staffs become demonstration models for other schools," Hargens said. She said four schools are on the district list, she said in answer to a question from Goldman, but she did not name them.

"We can get you the list," Hargens told Goldman.

More technology and flexibility in the school day length are two aspects of what the district's "Race to the Top" team thinks may be part of the program, Hargens said. A "pay for performance" program for teachers may be a part of the effort, she said. The board will see the application for approval before it goes to the state, Hargens said.

"We agree that our model should be nothing less than 70 percent" student proficiency in every school, Hargens told member John Tedesco, who asked about such goals.

"I have to agree with Mr. Tedesco that this is very exciting," member Anne McLaurin told Hargens.

"I think this is fantastic," member Chris Malone said. He also said he wished the state had decided to keep $165 million of the $400 million total and sent more to the districts.

Goldman said she is excited about the plan, but worries about a "Catch 22" issue of costs falling onto districts. For example, she said, the state may develop a new course of study for grades K-12, but "there is no allocation for textbooks" for new study.

Neter agreed that there are questions that "go to overall funding issues."

2:03 p.m. -- The district will be submitting paperwork to the state Wednesday for continued funding for a program to help students who need extra services. Board members who have opposed the district's change from a diversity-based student-assignment system asked about a certification the district has to make that it is not creating high-poverty schools. The district checks a box that says it is complying with the law, Dawn Dawson, senior director of state and federal programs, told the board.
2 p.m. -- The district has been facing a clash between deciding to have criminal background checks for all volunteers and the cost of those at $4.25 each, Human Resources chief Stephen Gainey told the board. The system had decided to have all volunteers checked because all employees and all contractors have to be checked, Gainey said.

As of Tuesday, Gainey said, the district has cleared 28,895 volunteers and is waiting for checks on 6,906. He said it is "a good problem to have" so many volunteers in the schools, but," We're balancing the safety of kids ... versus resources."

The database will carry over after this school year, Gainey said, but there is still a nightly alert for anything the criminal database finds for anyone in computer systems.

Some volunteers check "no" to a series of questions on an application about offenses, but the background check shows they have them, Gainey said.

He said the district has spent more than $140,000 so far this year on background checks, and he wants to be able to give the board some idea of costs for future budgets, Gainey said.

Previously, Gainey explained, there were four tiers of volunteers based on how much contact the person would have with students. Two of them that involved time along with students or going on trips required background checks. Other people, such as those working in a classroom in view of teachers, were not checked.

Member John Tedesco asked about partnering with the Wake County Sheriff's Office or seeking grants to pay for checks. Gainey said he had not looked for grants yet. After the former system of checks was instituted in 2004-05, he said, the number of new checks in following years fell to "teens," and he was hoping a similar pattern would occur.

1:25 p.m. -- Attorney Ann Majestic addressed questions board members had raised about public information and public meetings. Specifically, texting by board members during meetings, the possibility of members adding notes to agenda items on their laptop computers and members' sending e-mails while copying some but not all board members were the items listed.

As Majestic began to discuss texting, a cell phone in the room was ringing, bringing laughter.

Majestic said there is no law from court cases in North Carolina about whether elected officials' private notes for use as a personal memory aid are public documents. However, cases from other states "suggest that they are not," she said.

"We don't have an absolute answer in North Carolina," Majestic said, but the UNC School of Government has advised local boards that personal notes probably are not public record, according to a majority of out-of-state court cases.

On texting, it has replaced "the old-fashioned way" of passing notes during a meeting. Whether those are public is again unclear, Majestic said, but her concern is more about whether texts constitute "deliberations" that the board is required to hold in public. "That gives me concern," she said, while noting that the law is unclear.

Open meetings are supposed to let the public see the board's work, she said. She added, however, that notes between members such as "I'm hungry" or "bathroom break" are probably not important, again bringing some laughter.

"I get a lot of those as chairman," Margiotta said.

"Leave your phone off the table. Turn the darned thing off," member Kevin Hill said.

Majestic said that information on laptop computers can be retrieved, and business e-mails are public. She has found in other instances, however, that phone companies say text messages cannot be retrieved, and that presents a problem about records, especially on members' private phones.

"When you are at the board table, the benchmark should be that it is public," Majestic said. Messages between members on instant-messaging systems or by phone texts "are something we should avoid," she said.

Majestic also reminded the board that she had advised that any board business covered in private-account e-mails should be forwarded to their school board e-mail accounts to assure that it is captured as a public document.

On the question of board members' e-mailing some members and not others, there is no legal violation, Majestic said. Inclusion "may be a matter of board etiquette," she said, but not a requirement, she added.

On carrying out business outside public meetings, Majestic told the board that the standard in the law is that it is a violation "if you are gathering a majority of the body at the same time" physically or on a conference phone call or in a chat room.

1:10 p.m. -- "We have a very ambitious agenda" Chairman Ron Margiotta told the board as he opened the work session. He also told the members that he has received positive comment on the board's decision to hold a special public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to recognize outstanding staff and students.

"Each item is important and it has been requested by a board member or one of our liaisons or a staff member," Margiotta said the long list. Comparison of achievement data for students from other school systems has been put off to a later meeting, he said. An update on design of the next high school, called H-6 for now, also was postponed in favor of other work.





Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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