Hunter Elementary School, a magnet school near downtown Raleigh, looks like it will be among the 13 Wake County schools that will have a full enrollment cap placed on it today for the rest of the school year.
But the discussion last week about where the capped out base children for Hunter would go gives more insight into the differences between the board members about how students should be assigned. It could serve as an another example of what direction the new 2014-15 student assignment plan will take.
Last week, staff added Hunter to the original list of 12 schools it was recommending for a full cap for the rest of the 2012-13 school year. Students who are capped out of Hunter would be given the option of Oak Grove, Timber Drive and Washington elementary schools.
Since several magnets are on the full cap list, staff explained how it would work. This handout lists two target figures for each magnet school: a base number and an overall enrollment. If a magnet school on that list hits either number this school year, the full cap would go into effect.
Since the full cap list only affects the rest of the school year, this means the impact would fall on new base students who move into the attendance area of the capped magnet schools.
School board member John Tedesco said he accepts the need to cap Hunter to deal with crowding. But Tedesco raised concerns about the overflow schools selected by staff, saying it highlights the debate the board is having about weighing proximity, stability and diversity.
For instance, Tedesco said Oak Grove, located in Cary just over the border with Raleigh, is "pretty far" for families who are capped out of Hunter.
Board member Jim Martin said Oak Grove is a 20-minute drive. Board member Susan Evans said that's "not too bad."
Board member Christine Kushner said there are no year-rounds in downtown Raleigh. Tedesco said not necessarily.
Tedesco said the choice plan attempted to set magnet/base ratios at magnet schools to provide some balance.
“We likely know, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but most of the base area around Hunter is a high socioeconomic F&R base, right," Tedesco said. "If it’s capped, new people moving into that base — large transient population — can’t get into that school. Those people struggle the most to accept year-round schools, based on their work environment, single-parent households.
They’re more challenged to deal with year-round schools so they were choosing more so traditional schools. Their only choice then is Washington. And that would likely impact your magnet balance at Washington. How is it going to impact that school and the balance at that school?
Is there another school that might be a better option than Washington so we’re not impacting the magnet balance there in perspective with the whole thing?
Then you have other schools that are year-round. We’ve got Barwell Road Elementary, which is right in Southeast Raleigh. It’s a year-round school. It’s in my district right there, close to your district (of new board chair Keith Sutton), right on the line there. It might be a more reasonable option for families who might be struggling, who might have a single parent, a single car, a lack of transportation to get to a year-round school than Oak Grove."
Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment, said Oak Grove and Timber were chosen because they're the current year-round choices for Hunter families. Every capped school has three choices: two of the opposite calendar and one of the same calendar.
“These choices and options reflect the opportunity to A: impact the potential magnet balance and diversity goals and B: impact continuity and proximity and stability for families," Tedesco said. "Impact a reality of us understanding what’s happening on the streets for people who live in these neighborhoods. The people who live in this neighborhood, in particular, are likely to be low socioeconomic, large number of single-parent households, limited transportation options.
There are real things going on for real people out there. And us making decisions this way in here says, ‘Well yeah it’s 20 minutes to Oak Grove.'”
“We’re not making a decision other than for stability, John," Martin responded.
“When we cap the school, we’re making a decision for these families because they can’t get into the school for their neighborhood anymore," Tedesco replied back.
"But Washington is close," Martin answered. "Washington has as similar a programming as you can get.”
“I agree," Tedesco said of Washington.
“What has to drive what we’re doing right now is maximum stability," Martin replied. "These are all questions that need to be asked.
If you go and talk to people at Hunter, Hunter is challenged right now. They are in a lot of challenges we’ve got to pay attention to, so we can’t ignore that. But right now, if we start making all these decisions about changes, when do we stop?”
“Keep in mind this is for the current year," Susan Evans added. "This is not for next year”
Tedesco said he understands there's a challenge and was trying to make a point.
“I understand we need to cap it," Tedesco continued. "I understand the options for it. I’m in agreement with you on that. That part of it is off the table. Now what do we do to solve that problem?
Even for this current year, you’re choosing to solve that problem in this manner with these options. Now what is the impact on the other schools and on the people who live in those neighborhoods is my question. Does it impact the magnet balance at Washington? Or are we going to make Washington more challenged to some degree and perspective?
Does it impact the families who have to choose the other options? And one is too far for those families in reality. And since we make capping decisions on a case-by-case basis like we’re doing with this one, and we make the options for those caps on a case-by-case basis, wouldn’t it make sense then to have that conversation and say, okay if we’re going to cap Hunter, what are some of the better options?
Could Barwell Road potentially? And I don’t know if that’s it, there might be three other options in the neighborhood. I could look at a map if I was looking at it for 10 minutes and we could have a conversation.
But could Barwell Road be a better option than Oak Grove? It was low in capacity. It is year-round. It’s much more proximate. It has some of the additional resources for some of those families as a Renaissance School.
It might be a better option because we’re going to make this decision in a single point. We’re going to make this decision at a single point. It’s not about impacting how we do this plan or the next plan. When we make that decision, shouldn’t we have that discussion on what are the better options for the families down there?
Laura Evans said one of the reasons they chose Washington as a cap option for Hunter is because Washington has a higher magnet percentage than the other schools in the area. She pointed to the closing of Walnut Terrace shrinking Washington's base enrollment, which she said the school filled up with magnet students.
“We feel like this is good for Washington," Laura Evans said. "And then another thing to talk about is that we know that the base population of Hunter is a high-needs population. Do we want to send a high-needs population to Barwell which…"
“Which made 22 percent gains over two years with the high-needs population," Tedesco interjected.
"But, but," Laura Evans continued.
“Or Oak Grove, which made no academic gains with their ESL children or F&R children?” Tedesco continued.
“I’m just saying this is something y’all want to discuss," Laura Evans continued.
“I think Washington is a reasonable compromise." Susan Evans added.
“Washington is one good choice," Tedesco answered. "I would agree with that. But what are the others?”