Local News

Reassignment Still Means Unpopular Changes

Posted March 22, 2004 7:22 a.m. EST

— The Wake County Public School System measures socio-economic factors and uses magnet schools to balance its classroms. That approach appears to be working; fewer than one percent of reassigned students are moved to improve diversity.

But, balancing the big picture means unpopular changes for some.

More than 100 families in one Wake Forest neighborhood all face reassignment.

"We've been told we need to be reassigned because of diversity," neighborhood resident Michael Hawley said.

Hawley attends seminary and lives in seminary housing.

"Right now, we are low income," he said.

According to Wake County school leaders, the students in Hawley's neighborhood actually are slated to move from Wake Forest Elementary School to Heritage because of overcrowding. But, balancing low-income students is the secondary factor that factored them in.

The Wake County Public School System has a goal: to keep the number of students with free and reduced lunch at or below 40 percent. Officials said they are just tweaking the system because the real work began about 20 years ago with magnet schools -- a move that Wake County school spokesperson Michael Evans said "helped balance schools at the time."

Magnet schools like Southeast Raleigh High near Garner offer specialty and accelerated programs. Because students and parents pick them, Evans said the schools started to desegregate on their own.

"We are a high-performing school system," Evans said. "We make it work."

Said Hawley: "So, that's where we are."

Because reassignment is necessary, moving Hawley's neighborhood is convenient because it achieves two goals.

It just happens to not be convenient for him.

"We work on a traditional calendar where we're off in the summer," Hawley said.

Wake Forest Elementary is on the same calendar. Heritage is year-round.

Increasing diversity at year-round schools was a focus of this year's reassignment plan.

The Wake County Board of Education is still working on reassignment. School board members have a work session Tuesday; the final plan could be approved next week.