Wake County Schools

NAACP wants meeting with Wake schools superintendent

Posted February 2, 2011 6:19 p.m. EST

— The state NAACP wants to meet with Wake County’s new school superintendent to talk about diversity and the controversial move away from the district’s longstanding practice of busing students.

The civil rights group sent a letter Wednesday to Tony Tata, echoing its concerns about high-quality and constitutional educational opportunities for all students enrolled in the Wake County Public School System.

“We trust we can establish a strong working relationship as we address the critical problems many children in the Wake County Schools face,” state NAACP President Rev. William Barber wrote.

Barber said his group will not stand for segregation in schools – something many opponents to the school system’s new student assignment policy fear will happen.

The school board voted last year to remove socio-economic diversity as a factor when determining students’ placements in school and to, instead, look at proximity to their homes.

But the NAACP and others fear the move will create pockets of poverty in the school district and keep poor students from receiving the same quality of education as their counterparts.

“We stand ready to help with any initiative that will improve student achievement and graduation rates or stop the school-to-prison pipeline,” Barber wrote. “We will use every means possible to stop and reverse actions that would dismantle Wake’s nationally recognized SES diversity policy.”

The new student assignment policy isn’t expected to go into effect until the 2012-13 school year, but critics and some board members say recent assignment changes for 2011-12 will place thousands of low-income students back into high-poverty schools.

For example, the school board on Tuesday approved changes that will help fill the new Walnut Creek Elementary School in a low-income area of southeast Raleigh.

School system projections indicate that about 80 percent of the student population will qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch as a result of reassignment. The district currently tries to keep the number of students at each school receiving free or reduced-price lunches at no more than 40 percent.

“It does look as if we’re moving high-needs, low-income children to low-income schools and making higher-poverty schools, which will create a lot of extra needs,” board member Carolyn Morrison said Tuesday.

But board member John Tedesco said the changes to next year’s plan are needed to open Walnut Creek Elementary.

“The largest chunk of the move is the opening of a new school. That school just happens to be in southeast Raleigh,” Tedesco said. “When it draws from other schools, it has a ripple effect.”

Tata, who started work Monday, has said that increasing student achievement and preparing students to be competitive in a global economy will be his priorities as school superintendent.

Recently, he has told other media outlets that he thinks maintaining diversity in Wake schools is important, but he hasn’t said how he believes that should be achieved, saying he needs more time to look at the issue.