Local News

Wake Officials Aim to Keep Schools Diverse, Balanced

Posted June 7, 2007 12:14 a.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2007 9:33 a.m. EDT

— When Judge Howard Manning ruled that year-round schools must be voluntary, Wake School Board members said it resulted in diversity in some schools being thrown out of whack.

Of the 2,626 students who decided to opt out of year-round schools, 1,595 of those are lower income.

For more than 20 years, Wake Schools have been committed to balancing schools to avoid high concentrations of poverty. School officials do this by measuring the number of children who receive free and reduced lunches.

They try to keep the number of students who receive free and reduced priced lunches under 50 percent in each school. They say this practice allows all schools to thrive.

Still, many parents feel school assignments in Wake County are more chaos than calculated.

One of the biggest gripes is school assignments that aren't closest to home.

A year and a half ago, the Riverside Community in north Raleigh complained that the school system’s diversity policy lacked common sense in their case. The neighborhood was within walking distance to Wildwood Elementary but got an assignment to Fox Road Elementary instead.

Wildwood was overcrowded, but parents felt the middle class neighborhood was moved to add diversity to Fox Road.

Chuck Dulaney, Wake schools’ director of growth management, said he understands some of the frustration, but added that the policy is working.

“Whereas most school systems have winner schools and loser schools, that affects where people are willing to live and send their kids to school,” Dulaney said.

The Town of Garner has watched its balance shift and isn't happy about it.

With several schools nearing a poverty rate of 60 percent, a grass roots group is lobbying the school board to live up to its goal of diversity.

The Greater Garner Advocates said they feel too many lower income students are bused into Garner. They see too many Garner families opting for year round or magnet schools elsewhere.

As a former teacher, Judy McCreery believes in the Garner schools and she’s keeping a close eye on every move the school board makes.

“We want to see a good thing get better, and we’re going to continue to monitor what the county does with Garner schools,” McCreery said.

The school board found spots for all 2,626 students who opted out of year-round.

That was a challenge in some of the Garner schools where they were trying to avoid crowding and high levels of poverty.

When trying to find options for students who wanted out of Vance, Rand, Timber Drive and West Lake elementary schools, the board initially looked at Smith Elementary in Garner. That would overcrowd Smith, which also has the challenge of a free and reduced lunch percentage of 68 percent.

The board decided Wednesday that some of the students opting out of those elementary schools would go to Smith while others would move to Olds, Wiley and Fuller, which are about 10 miles away.

They encountered the same struggle with North Garner Middle. Initially, the board looked at moving students who wanted to opt out to East Garner Middle. Instead, they decided Wednesday to move some students to East Garner while others would move to Martin or Daniels Middle School.

The Greater Garner Advocates said they were pleased that the board took the time to find a solution with more balance.