The Wake County school board will tackle the 2013-14 student assignment plan tonight looking at changes requested by the Democratic majority.
At Saturday's work session, which was only attended by Democratic board members, staff was asked to look at making changes to the draft plan, from elementary through high school. This could result in achievement-based changes and revisions to the middle school and high school feeder patterns.
At the same time, majority members said they don't want to move a lot of students next year and want to make changes over several years.
Let's start with how the elementary school assignments were drawn up.
Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning, said they didn't emphasize any of the pillars in the June assignment directive — student achievement, stability and proximity — over the other. Some majority members say achievement should be first because that's the way it's listed on the directive.
While Evans said staff didn't read proximity as more important, they did redraw the elementary school base areas with students going to their closest school as the starting point. This included ensuring that areas adjacent to elementary schools were assigned to that school's base.
Evans said Saturday she didn't yet have figures showing how many students would be reassigned under the draft plan. But she was also quick to add that students have grandfathering.
Board member Jim Martin said that he supports grandfathering but that it doesn't always equal stability. Martin brought up the issue of some neighborhoods with historic ties to a school now seeing different assignments.
Martin cited how one principal in his district told him he's losing three neighborhood where's he's historically gotten his PTA volunteers. Martin asked if there's a way to keep these historical ties in mind.
Evans replied that "since the dawn of time" principals have raised concerns about losing active parents.
Board member Susan Evans echoed Martin's concerns, adding that she's uncomfortable that the draft plan seems to change so many neighborhoods with historical school ties.
“I’m interested in as little movement as possible," Susan Evans said.
This handout shows how many of the current students at each elementary school would be considered base students under the draft plan. Martin said he was concerned about the numbers and asked, as he would on several occasions Saturday, that they consider using the 2011-12 base maps as the starting point instead of starting from scratch.
This handout shows the projected student achievement impact of the draft plan on each school.
In terms of student achievement, Laura Evans said since they only had a limited amount of time to get out a plan they focused on areas that had high concentrations of low-performing students but didn't have the capacity to house all the students. This meant two areas.
Laura Evans said one area was inside the Beltline, particularly the eastern portion. She said that's basically the area where the Group 1 magnet schools are located.
Laura Evans said they set out the goal of seating everyone who lived inside the Beltline in a school inside the Beltline. But because Group 1 magnets are 55 percent magnet students, Evans said they didn't have enough seats to put all the students in the most proximate schools.
As a result, Laura Evans said some neighborhoods in the eastern ITB side were assigned to schools in the western ITB side such as Root Elementary. She said the western ITB schools have two base areas.
Laura Evans emphasized that with grandfathering the changes would take time to be fully implemented.
Board member Christine Kushner raised concerns about Partnership Elementary School getting a base when it's been a choice school.
Martin said that adding a base overnight to Partnership "creates a lot of instability so we will need to have a lot of serous program discussions." For instance, he noted that Partnership requires a strong amount of parental involvement. He said he's not sure they could require that of the new base.
Laura Evans said the other area with a high concentration of low-performing students they focused on was north and northeast of the Beltline. It's basically the rim school area around Brentwood, Millbrook and Wilburn elementary schools.
Laura Evans said they had to send some of the neighborhoods to schools further away to avoid building larger concentrations of low-performing students in the rim schools.
Board members brought up their ideas for staff to consider.
Martin asked staff about assigning students out of high-performing schools instead of just from low-performing ones.
"We have some schools that are weighted on one side and some that are weighted way on the other side," Martin said. "It strikes me we need to pay attention to the extreme fringes on both sides, not just on the one and look at both sides and say ‘hey are there any areas in the vicinity of this really high-performing school where we could use some of those resources to help build up.’”
School board vice chairman Keith Sutton suggested that staff look at moving some eastern ITB neighborhoods to schools in Knightdale. He said they could also move some Knightdale neighborhoods to eastern ITB schools.
For instance, Sutton said that they could look at areas assigned to East Raleigh schools like Barwell, Poe, Bugg and Powell elementary schools and have them go to Hodge Road or Knightdale elementary schools. Sutton said the trip up New Bern Avenue is only 10-15 minutes for those eastern ITB areas.
Sutton, whose district includes Southeast Raleigh and part of Knightdale, said he goes to the New Hope Road area often to shop instead of North Raleigh because it's quicker to reach.
Sutton added that it "makes sense" to have some East Raleigh students go to schools like Lacy and Root elementary schools west of downtown Raleigh. But he said that "in order to sort of mitigate some of the impact on those schools" some students could go to Eastern Wake schools.
"If you just extend it a bit and not necessarily keep them all inside the Beltline and just send some east as well to the Knightdale area," Sutton said. "Now of course at the same time you don’t want to adversely impact the Knightdale piece so again it seems to me you’d have to have some coming in as well and that could help the Eastern Wake area.”
Another area that drew a lot of questions from board members is the middle school and high school feeders.
Laura Evans said that they largely kept the feeders that were part of this year's choice plan. She said they made some changes such as having Carpenter Elementary feed into Davis Drive Middle instead of East Cary Middle.
Laura Evans said they also shifted York Elementary's feeders to Leesville Road Middle and Leesville Road. Evans said they wanted seats at Daniels Middle and Broughton High — York's prior feeders — to go to families who live ITB.
The issue that several board members raised is that it means areas that live near, including adjacent to middle schools and high schools, may not have them as their base schools.
Martin said he'd like "the same level of logic" used in the elementary base areas applied to middle schools and high schools. He said he'd like to see what would be the impact of having all students who live within a half-mile of a school get it as the base.
Laura Evans admitted they had made some mistakes in the draft plan, citing the parents who complained that they'd be sent to Partnership but go to Southeast Raleigh High instead of to Broughton. She said she's now recommending treating Partnership like a Group 2 magnet school so that the base would go to proximate schools like Daniels and Broughton while the magnets would feed into Moore Square Middle and Southeast Raleigh.
Laura Evans said that Kushner had brought another concern about families living around Daniels not getting it as the base. Laura Evans said those students should be able to go to Daniels.
Laura Evans said that GOP board member Debra Goldman had questioned why her neighborhood of Scottish Hills was assigned to different schools. Evans said that they could fix that and they had tried to keep neighborhoods together but sometimes it wasn't possible if they were too large.
Laura Evans said their focus was to keep neighborhoods and cohorts together. By having elementary school students in the same neighborhood go together they'd stay through middle school and high school.
Susan Evans said that middle school and high school assignments should be based off address not feeder.
The end result of the discussion is that staff will review the middle school and high school assignments. Martin said staff can consider combining the use of feeders and addresses for secondary school assignments.
Some board members raised concerns about the new open enrollment period allowing students to request any school that has space.
School board chairman Kevin Hill said being able to request any school could promote a case of haves and have nots because some families can provide their own transportation. He said it could also result in some schools being pushed into a capping stage sooner.
Sutton said the request any school language “frightens me a bit."
Martin pointed out that it's only a request and not a guarantee.
Another point that will be discussed today is whether new elementary schools should open K-5. Hill said that when he as a principal opened Wildwood Forest Elementary as a K-4 school it had posed staffing problems.
Hill said he doesn't put rising fifth-graders in the same category as rising high school juniors or seniors. Wake doesn't open high schools with upper classmen.
Another point raised by Sutton and Martin is that they're not going to get everything done at once. They said they're viewing any changes they'd make as a multi-year process.
“My thinking is that this could be like the multi-year assignment plans that we did in the past," Sutton said. "This may not be a multi-year piece but certainly a multi-phase process where we may be able to focus on particular areas, be it geographically, or focus on particular problems around low-achievement, or what have you, knowing that the next year we can come back and focus a little bit more.”