The concept of healthy schools and the significance of the student assignment directive, along with how it was passed by the Wake County school board, were among the topics on WRAL's "On The Record" show on Saturday.
David Crabtree, the host of the show, asked whether the passage of the directive meant the Wake County school system was headed back to where it was before the 2009 school board elections. School board chairman Kevin Hill said the directive calls for staff to “look at the best pieces of the past several assignment processes we’ve had and move forward.”
But school board member Deborah Prickett answered that “this plan is looking to me that it is slipping backwards." She said the directive “is a fundamental change" to the choice plan and "is actually going after the structure of the plan.”
Both board members were asked about the idea of healthy schools, which was the hallmark of the old diversity policy.
"I’ve heard the term so-called ‘healthy schools,'" Prickett said. "And I guess a school would be healthy depending on the values and the judgment that the person that comes to the school would bring. Healthy to one person may not be healthy to another."
Hill differed in his response.
“We live in a diverse society and I believe our students need to be exposed to different layers of diversity," Hill said. "But also the research has been very clear in terms of the academic achievement of students at schools that have high needs as opposed to the academic achievement of students at schools that might be a healthy school.
I have a definition of healthy schools. It’s essentially what we’ve had in Wake County. This has been the definition: High academic achievement for all students, strong parental and community support, strong and effective leadership, a highly trained and effective staff, a diverse student body, a safe, orderly, inviting learning environment, attractive and appropriate and learning facilities.”
Crabtree said he's heard from some people that they're against bringing down their child to bring up some other child academically. He asked if that's a "legitimate argument."
"I think it absolutely is legitimate," Prickett answered. "I think parents should have choice in this process. And what has happened with this directive is it has taken away choice from parents and I believe that parents know what’s best for their children. And as a school board member, I do not want to be telling parents which school their child needs to attend."
Crabtree asked Prickett what about parents "who may not have an equal capacity to understand how to make that choice?"
“It’s our job as a system to educate the parents," Prickett answered, pointing to the community meetings on the choice plan.
Crabtree asked Hill if it's a “fair argument” that parents have they're worried about lowering standards to help some other students.
“If that’s what was happening that would be a fair argument," Hill answered. "But I don’t believe that’s what’s happening. I think the goal of every educator — from board member to classroom teacher — is that we want to push every student to their full capacity.”
Crabtree restated the question, asking if Hill understands the arguments of parents who said not having their child go to a school near where they live lowers standards for them to raise standards for someone else.
“I don’t believe there a suggestion that there’s going to be massive reassignment," Hill answered. "We’ve talked about stay put. We’re looking at down the road to have a base address to make it more attractive for folks to look at moving to Wake County.
But secondly, there is abundant research that shows all students benefit when you have a healthy school in terms of improved academic achievement just as if you have what might be considered a high-needs school it hurts academic achievement of all students."
Crabtree asked Hill that since the old system “wasn't exactly working” before the 2009 elections, why will that theory work now.
“We’re not looking at going back to the system that was in place," Hill answered. "We are looking at a system that will tie base address and have an element of choice. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Later on the show, the way the board approved the directive in the marathon meeting that lasted past midnight was also discussed.
“Are you running the board differently than your predecessor?" Crabtree asked Hill. "Open free discussion? That was a criticism of your predecessor at times."
“Yes sir," Hill answered. "That’s why we ran so late that evening a couple of weeks ago because I’m hesitant to limit discussion. I’ve received many suggestions tied to Roberts Rules on how we might be able to do that.
But no I think everybody needs to be involved. We need to have discussions and parse things out amongst ourselves before we vote on issues."
Crabtree then asked Prickett if she felt that board meetings are being run fairly.
“The night of the new directive, I would have liked to have had a few more things to say and I was cut off," Prickett answered. "I do think Chairman Margiotta was very good about listening to all sides and letting things go on the agenda. As board members, we can ask for things to be put on the agenda and he would do that even if it was something he maybe felt differently about. He would at least let it go on the agenda for discussion.
So I do think Chairman Hill is trying to give everyone a chance to speak, but I did feel a little rushed the other night. Even though it was getting late in the night, this was a very major topic and this information came in our board notebooks on a Friday afternoon, the Father’s Day weekend. And it was just something that just kind of hit us out of left field.
And after the staff had spent so much time on this assignment plan, this was very discouraging to me to see something that would be an element that would take away choice from parents. When you try to tie in a base assignment address with each house in a county this large, what happens is some parents are stuck with mandatory year-round schools which doesn’t fit for their lifestyles and it takes away choice from parents.
Crabtree asked Hill if Prickett should have had more time that meeting.
"In terms of again allowing everybody to have comment at the table, we had gone on quite some time," Hill said.
But Crabtree said that's it not like a basketball game where the clock runs out so Hill could have extend the clock.
“I felt that I had," Hill answered. "What I try and do, what we’re directed to do, is to alternate discussion between people with various positions, try to recognize everyone who has not had a chance to speak before somebody has a second chance to speak."
Crabtree then asked Prickett, "in all fairness," did she think she would have changed anyone's mind if she had been given 10 hours to speak.
“This is a public board meeting and it was being taped," Prickett replied. "I do think the public needs to hear all the different sides because there are so many families affected.”