Wake County Schools

Southeast Raleigh school serves as test of neighborhood assignments

Posted February 11, 2011 11:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2011 11:11 p.m. EST

— When Walnut Creek Elementary School opens in August to students in southeast Raleigh, the majority of the student body will come from low-income families.

Leaders in the county school system are working to make sure that economic status does not hinder the quality of education at the school.

In a meeting Friday at a church near the school, Tony Tata, superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, said he saw similar schools succeed in Washington, D.C.

"There was a lot of intervention and a lot of effort and a lot of money that had to go in there," he said.

District leaders recognize the need for a good principal and the best teachers.

"A brand-new, shiny building will not automatically ensure students will be successful," said school board member Keith Sutton.

Tata said he'd consider a signing bonus for the principal up to the challenge.

Roughly 80 percent of the anticipated student body will be from families eligible for the district's free or reduced-priced lunches. Studies have shown students from poorer families may not have the same learning advantages from their homes as those in upper class homes.

"If you get in front of it, you can keep those challenges from occurring," Tata said.

School leaders are considering longer instructional days at Walnut Creek. Students would stay 45 minutes longer than students at other schools.

The school might also partner with the YMCA to help students falling behind in class. And teachers will use a STEM model, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

As the school system moves to a policy of assigning students to schools closer to home, some schools will have majority low-income students, Tata said.

"This is the policy the school board voted on, so this is the reality," he said.

"This is where the people live," school board member John Tedesco said. "The kids are here. They are in Wake County. We need to educate them."

The school may be a test case for the entire county.

"How Walnut Creek goes will in large part define the larger discussion about Wake County schools," Tata said.