Wake board, superintendent finding common ground
Posted June 17, 2011 8:02 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2011 6:55 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata and his employers on the Board of Education spent Saturday morning in retreat, their second such planning session since Tata's January hire.
In February, the board agreed to a mission statement and five shared "core beliefs:"
- All children, regardless of socio-economic environment, can be high-achieving students.
- Academic achievement gaps can and will be eliminated by aggressively challenging students at all achievement levels.
- Highly effective principals and teachers are the key to improving growth in student achievement.
- The Board of Education and Central Services promote an environment of continuous improvement, which results in a high-performing organization that is 100 percent focused on supporting schools and increasing student achievement.
- The supportive, passionate and multi-cultural Wake County community serves as the foundation of our school system.
"We seem to have consensus on all of the goals," said board member Deborah Prickett.
The board, which made national headlines for acrimony just a year ago, appears to be functioning more cooperatively since Tata took office.
"All of the board supports the superintendent's plan," member Anne McLaurin said. "Basically, he is addressing the issues we want him to address."
Saturday's meeting allowed Tata to update the board on his plans to turn those beliefs into actionable goals. He heard feedback and took notes for about three hours. "It is important to have the board's intent captured," he said.
Tata will use the feedback to develop a strategic plan for leading the Wake County Public School System over the next three to five years.
Grading the teachers
The board spent much of Saturday talking about how to measure the performance of teachers in the district and how to assure all students get the push they need.
Tata presented data that showed high-performing teachers are clustered in schools in the more affluent parts of the county. Board member Keith Sutton used NBA coach Phil Jackson as a comparison. "If you have a team of all-stars, it's pretty easy to be a high-performing coach," he said.
Tata countered, "I've seen great teachers in all of our schools all over the county," he said.
"We have high-growth teachers in just about all our schools, but there is a higher density in the more affluent areas," Tata allowed.
Those in attendance differed over how to define a great teacher, noting that degrees and certifications often don't communicate what goes on in the classroom.
"Any teacher may be able to move a very gifted student up 10 percent," McLaurin said. "It is the special teacher that can move a very challenging student up three or four percent."
McLaurin and Sutton posited placing teachers in schools across the county to improve student achievement in less-affluent areas.
Prickett said the focus should be on effective teachers for all students.
Student assignment test-drive extended
The issue of student assignment did not come up until the final minutes of the meeting, when Tata updated the board on the progress of the trial run of the "blue plan." About 7,000 families have taken the online test drive of the Community-Based Choice plan.
The superintendent said he would extend the deadline on that test drive until Friday in hopes up to 12,000 families might participate. The school system also scheduled community outreach sessions at churches and schools this week for community members without internet access.
The plan is one of two Tata published for feedback earlier this month.
The Community-Based Choice plan, or "blue plan," allows parents to choose from a variety of four to six elementary schools, each linked with a middle and high school. Students get priority based on whether they have a sibling at the school or live close by, and the district takes into account achievement balance and capacity at each school.
The alternative, the Base Schools Achievement plan, or "green plan," is more similar to the current assignment model. Under it, the school system assigns students based on student achievement, ensuring that students from low-performing areas end up at high-performing schools.
Tata has said that feedback on both plans will be part of his presentation on student assignment at Tuesday's meeting of the Wake County Board of Education. The board will meet at 12:30 p.m. for a work session, at 3600 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The annual public meeting will follow at 5:30 p.m. As usual, WRAL.com will offer streaming live video of both sessions.