It took a lot of discussion on Saturday before the Wake County school board finally agreed to modify the district's core beliefs.
The board made two changes from this original document approved by the old board in February. This new set modifies the wording about academically challenging students and the role of teachers and principals in student achievement.
The impetus for the changes came from the new school board members.
The meeting opened with board members being asked if they were okay with the wording in the mission, vision and core beliefs.
Martin responded by saying he had concerns about the "tone and tenor" of the document. In particular, Martin said he was concerned that there was no language talking about student responsibility for achievement. He said all the wording focused on teachers and principals.
New board member Christine Kushner said she agreed.
“We need to have something to have students accountable as well," Kushner said.
Martin also suggested striking the word "all" from core belief one which says that "all children, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, can be high achieving students."
Martin said they can and should push all students to reach their potential. But, citing the example of a nephew who has Down Syndrome, Martin said the child can't be as high achieving as a child who does not have that condition.
Martin said he didn't think that taking out the word "all" would diminish the belief.
Martin also suggested eliminating the word "the" in the core belief saying that "highly effective principals and teachers are the key to improving growth in student achievement." He said it ignores the role of students.
"If a student really doesn’t want to learn, there are a lot of things that go into the process." Martin said.
Board chairman Kevin Hill said it's important to leave the word "all" in core belief one because the majority of their audience are not educators. But Hill said he agreed with removing "the" from core belief three on teachers and principals.
Other board members soon agreed about dropping the word "the." They said that when it was originally adopted they didn't intend to give the impression that improving growth in student achievement was only up to principals and teachers.
Tata said he was okay with that change too.
New board member Susan Evans focused on core belief two saying that "academic achievement gaps can and will be eliminated by aggressively challenging students at all achievement levels."
Evans said she "cares deeply" about closing the achievement gap. But she said it would "presumptuous" to say they will close the gap.
Martin agreed with Evans as he suggested rewording the belief to say that challenging students "will contribute" to closing the achievement gap.
“It’s presumptuous to say that we will close achievement gaps," Martin said "But it’s our responsibility to work toward closing achievment gaps."
As they talked about the wording for this core belief, school board attorney Ann Majestic reminded the board that the Leandro ruling says students are entitled to receive a sound basic education. She cautioned against making promises that could get Wake in legal trouble.
Board member Debra Goldman said she also thought it was presumptuous at first when it was adopted in February. But she said she's comfortable with it now because it's listed as a core belief.
Board vice chairman Keith Sutton said he would be concerned as Martin and Evans if the statement was in the mission section. But putting in the core beliefs, Sutton said, shows they believe they can eliminate gaps although they may or may not be able to do so.
Board member Chris Malone reemphasized the point about it being a core belief and not an action statement.
Noting how they had spent a lot of time on this particular wording in February, board member John Tedesco talked about sending a message to the public.
"We want to send a message to the public that we can aggressively target and close achievement gaps," Tedesco said. "We want the public to know it’s possible. There’s a belief by some that’s not possible.”
Martin said that after being told it was a belief statement he was actually less comfortable now about the wording.
Martin said that the wording treats it as if only the school system can close the achievement gap, leaving out other factors.
"We’ve got make sure that every kid has a sufficient place to live to close the achievement gap," Martin said. "We’ve tot to ensure a sufficient home structure to close the achievement gap.
There's so many things that need to go into closing the achievement gap that, no, I don’t believe we can do it by sufficiently challenging all students. Do I believe it’s an essential part? Yes."
Goldman said she doesn't believe the statement precludes those other non-school factors.
Sutton said they don't have control of home, just what takes place in school. This prompted Martin to say that's why he doesn't want the belief to be an all-inclusive statement.
Sutton, like other board members before him, said they should recognize that a lot of discussion was spent on the issue before to get support for that wording. He said the new members should understand the reluctance to change it now.
As a compromise, Hill suggested dropping the wording about "aggressively challenging students at all achievement levels." He said that policy can handle that issue.
Tata brought up how the wording on challenging students at all achievement levels was added in February because of concerns from some board members that focusing on closing the achievement gap left out gifted students.
Goldman said she was the one concerned about the gifted students who asked for the wording. She said the wording was compacted into one belief because once you get beyond having five it becomes "unmanageable."
Goldman said she "would strongly urge supporting the consensus-building work from February."
Sutton suggested what eventually would be approved by breaking up the belief into two separate beliefs.
Martin said "the language of respecting what we’ve done is not helpful." He said their goal is to make the language better.
“Just because something changes doesn’t mean it’s an attack," Martin said. "I’m not bringing up any of these as an attack by any means.”
Martin said he could support Sutton's idea of breaking it into two beliefs. He said having a separate belief about rigor would make it stronger.
Evans said "ditto" to what Martin had proposed.
Malone said he would rather keep it as one point because people are less likely to read them if they have too many points.
Kushner suggested leaving it as one point but making it two sentences. Jim Huge, the meeting facilitator, noted though that they are two separate ideas.
Sutton said that while it's important to have just five beliefs, he said the ideas "are too complicated to keep in one sentence."
Tedesco suggested addressing the point about providing a rigorous education by adding to the first belief about all students can be high-achieving students.
Goldman said she was concerned about wording things above and beyond what's in the Leandro ruling.
At Huge's suggestion, Majestic worked on revising the wording during a break. She was joined by Sutton and Tata.
The end result was to shorten the original core belief to now say that "academic achievement gaps can and will be eliminated." They created a new core belief that says "challenging all students by providing academic rigor is essential to student success."
Majestic said she doesn't believe the new wording puts Wake out on a limb.
That change, along with dropping the word "the" about saying teachers and principals were "the key," was approved unanimously.
But Martin said he still wants more wording added somewhere in the document about the role of student involvement. This will be discussed as they continue to review the document.
"Even if you have a lousy teacher, if a student takes ownership he will learn," Martin said.