Wake County Schools

Wake school board members open to 'school choice' plan

Posted February 11, 2011 5:54 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2011 8:45 p.m. EST

— At least three Wake County school board members spoke out favorably Friday about a new student assignment plan on the table that authors say will not only meet the school board’s goal of community schools but also ensure all students get an opportunity to succeed.

“We’re going to send it to our superintendent and our staff and let them sort of look at some of the nuts and bolts of the system,” board member John Tedesco said.

The Wake Education Partnership and Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce unveiled the so-called “Wake School Choice” model at a news conference Friday morning, during which leaders of both groups said it would satisfy the board’s objectives of stability for students, choice for parents and assigning students to schools close to home.

“It adds a fourth goal, which is student achievement, the primary reason schools exist,” said Gordon Brown, chairman of the Wake Education Partnership’s Board of Directors.

The way the plan works is that parents get a choice of at least 10 elementary schools, five middle schools and five high schools – including schools with traditional calendar, year-round calendar and magnet options – based on their address.

Students get priority based on proximity and if they already have siblings at that school. Under a grandfathering clause, students can also opt to stay put in their current schools. (Read more about the Wake School Choice plan.)

But Brown warned it is not a detailed assignment plan but only a “flexible framework” that requires many critical decisions by the school board and school leaders.

“Student assignment plans do not teach children,” he said. “Teachers teach children, but a good assignment plan can aid or hinder teachers in that effort.”

Under the assignment policy that the school board adopted last year, students will be assigned to schools closer to their homes instead of some being bused to help achieve socio-economic diversity across the county.

Tedesco was one of four Republican board members voted into office in 2009 who ran on a platform of neighborhood schools. All four and Chairman Ron Margiotta adopted the policy last February, despite outcries from the public and the board’s four Democratic members.

“What we were saying all along is that this county is very diverse already, and if you allow choice, you will inherently drive more diversity in a lot of our schools,” Tedesco said. “That would be a natural component of a parental choice model. So, we were pushing for that, just in a different way, using different tools, and this model is in sync with that.”

Debra Goldman, the school board’s co-chairwoman and a member of the board’s Republican majority, also expressed support of the Wake School Choice model.

In a statement, she pushed for an implementation plan of the board’s new assignment policy to be in place and approved by summer to be applied in the 2012-13 school year to allow a full year for schools and families to prepare.

“I believe this deliberate and reasoned process will produce the best overall result for all involved in this crucial decision,” she said. “I recognize that we as a community want to do what is best for our children and their academic future. I encourage my fellow board members to join with me and embrace this approach.”

Board member Keith Sutton, a member of the minority who have defended the long-standing policy of busing for diversity, called the plan “a good framework that makes a good attempt to try to include many important factors.”

Speaking on the issue of diversity Gary Joyner, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, said their proposal doesn’t specifically focus on diversity but recognizes that it is important.

The diversity issue has created a firestorm as community members and civic groups, including the state NAACP, register fears that community-based schools will lead to segregation and unequal access to a quality education for poor students.

“We expect diversity to be a natural outgrowth of the plan, but this proposal does not mandate diversity,” Joyner said. “The mix of students this plan cares about most is a mix that provides every child with an opportunity to succeed and schools staffed by excellent principals and strong teachers.”