The challenges facing high-poverty Eastern Wake schools came into play during Thursday’s discussion of curriculum audits of four Knightdale schools.
The outside audits of Hodge Road and Knightdale elementary schools, East Wake Middle School and Knightdale High School found problems affecting how students are being educated. It also brought attention to the issue of inequitable distribution of district resources among Wake County’s 170 schools and the challenges of providing remediation at multi-track year-round schools.
Todd Wirt, assistant superintendent of academics, presented an overview of what he called the “overarching themes” in the findings.
One theme was that inconsistencies in monitoring of instruction by school-based administration, student discipline and teacher expectations was impeding continuous improvement student achievement. Auditors said there was a “lack of high quality, aligned, formative assessments that can be used diagnostically.”
Another finding was that “effective curriculum delivery is hampered by problems with district services and inequitable distribution o resources.” Auditors said there’s a need for a “clearer focus on resources that are allotted to schools.”
Wirt said that finding pointed to problems of identifying English language learners (ELL) at those schools who are academically gifted. He said it also touches on facilities issues, technology equity and lack of school diversity in staff.
In terms of curriculum delivery, the auditors were concerned that 41 percent of teacher activity in class was in large groups. The auditors said there is a “need to vary dominant teacher activity.”
Wirt laid out the various responses that central office is taking to help the four schools. For instance he said they’re assisting the schools “in training around high-yield instructional strategies and assessment of data.”
Another example, Wirt said, is assisting teachers with the use of resources in CMAPP.
Wirt also said the move by those Knightdale schools from a multi-track calendar to a single-track year-round calendar was a “huge step.” It’s making it easier to provide track-out instructional services for the students.
School board member Tom Benton, who represents Eastern Wake, said he noticed that they plan to provide track-out intervention at Hodge Road for ELL students. He asked about providing it for all Level I and II students.
Debra Pearce, principal of Hodge Road, responded they’re talked with the Title I office about getting extra funding so they can provide all those students with “time-sensitive support.”
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said they’ve struggled with providing track-out help for multi-track year-round schools because they don’t have a summer break. With the state now requiring summer programs for third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level, Moore said there’s been a discussion about how to handle it for the multi-track schools.
In terms of next steps, Wirt said they’re looking at the recommendations for each audit. Wirt said he’s asked the principals to focus on the school ones while central office deals with the district recommendations.
Ed McFarland, the new area superintendent for Eastern Wake, said what they don’t want to do is go in with so many pieces of help that are misaligned. He said they want to begin offering assistance very quickly but do it in a tailored way for each school.
What resulted next was a lengthy board discussion about the situation in Eastern Wake.
“I’m very concerned about the low percentage of kids living in Knightdale going to Knightdale schools,” Benton said, pointing to competition from magnet schools, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.
"We’re probably approaching 50 percent of our Knightdale students not attending public schools in Knightdale.” Benton continued. “To me, that’s horrifying, We’ve got to be able to regain the trust of the public across the board that our schools are meeting their needs."
Benton suggested creating a task force that could look at helping Knightdale both in the short and long term. He suggested that the task force consist of parents, teachers and business and civic leaders to discuss what programs are needed.
Benton then focused in on the staffing issues at the town schools, at how they’re faced with a very large number of beginning teachers who once they get experience move to other areas. Benton said the same thing happens with administrators with him admitting he did the same thing when he left his principal’s post in Zebulon to go to work in a Raleigh school.
“We’ve got to find some way to attract and retain quality staff out there so we’re not just a training ground for the rest of the county,” Benton said.
Board member Jim Martin focused on the lack of resources issue, which he said made it hard for Knightdale schools to implement CMAPP. Martin said that while you can have great lessons, you need to have the stuff to implement them.
Martin also questioned the auditors who wondered about why so much time was spent in large group activities. Pointing to his own experience as a professor at NC State, Martin said that if you know you have one or two students who will create a disruption you’re less likely to work in small groups.
Martin said he was also concerned about the intervention strategies. Martin said the report focuses on remediation but the statistics are pretty clear that people will leave a school if all the interventions are for remediation.
While they need to have remediation for Level I and II students, Martin said they also need to have interventions to help Level III students reach Level IV to keep those families from leaving.
Board member Susan Evans also focused on the issue of inconsistent resources. Evans said that’s something that has got to be taken up by the board and would fall under the proposed equity policy.
Evans said they need to have “tough conversations” not just on what Title I provides to school but whether they need to reallocate resources differently between schools.
Evans cited conversations she had with a first-year teacher in Eastern Wake this past school year who told her about her struggles finding time to do formative assessments when large numbers of students in the class are not at grade level, Evans said that’s one of those teachers they could lose very soon.
Evans said they need to talk about having the proper amount of support for those schools
“We’ve got to put it on the table it’s very different teaching in those schools than in Western Wake,” Evans said. “How can we support those teachers as much as possible to level the playing field?”
Martin said that as the district works to provide professional development that they need to partner with the schools in the process. He said he’s been in too many professional development meetings where professional development people tell you what to do and teachers are tired of being told what they need when they already know it.
Benton said that, summing it all up, they’ve got to make the public understand that equal and equity aren’t the same.