October 20, 2011

Wake launches new assignment plan

Hours after gaining school board approval for a new student assignment plan, district leaders launched a broad outreach effort this week to begin informing principals, teachers and parents of numerous changes for the coming year.

Approved 6-2, the plan promises to focus on school choice, proximity, stability and student achievement in all future assignments. The approach for the nation’s 18th largest school district stands in stark contrast to the previous policy that relied on mandatory assignments to fill schools.

The vote follows almost two years of sometimes bitter debate among board members and community groups. But it struck enough balance in the end to attract a bi-partisan  majority.

In comments before the formal vote, board member Anne McLaurin referred to other pivotal times in the school system’s history such as the city and county merger of 1976 and the magnet school launch in 1983. In both cases, she said, people doubted such proposals would work.

“It is the community of Wake County that made those things work,” McLaurin said. “And so it is up to us – all of us – to make this plan the best plan that we can.”
Ironically, a smooth launch of the new model would make the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year a non-event for most parents. That is because the plan guarantees every student the right to stay in their current school, with transportation, if they are happy with their assignment.

Families are scheduled to receive notices the week of Nov. 14 letting them know the school they currently attend is where they will stay in 2012-2013 unless they participate in the school choice process.

Roughly 90 percent of students are expected to choose the grandfathering option based on school system surveys. That means the focus of the plan will shift largely to incoming kindergarten students.

The first group to make choices will be those who want to attend a magnet school. Magnet applications will be accepted from Dec. 5 through Dec. 19.

Families who are not interested in magnet programs will participate in a separate application process for schools close to home. That application period will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 24, as shown in the timeline below.

Assignment Timeline

Source: Wake school system


The district has set up a web site that offers plan details, feeder patterns, frequently asked questions, school board handouts and other materials. In general though, the following highlights are key components of the new approach:

Choice: Every family can choose from at least five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools. Students who live near specific magnet schools inside the Beltline will be offered more choices, including more high-achieving schools.

Proximity: For parents who do not wish to apply to a magnet school, elementary school choices will be determined by proximity to the student’s home.

Stability: Students will not be reassigned once they enroll in a school. Automatic feeder patterns from elementary to middle school – and middle school to high school – are designed to guarantee a K-12 assignment path unless a student chooses to leave. Selections made outside the feeder patterns will be granted based upon available seats.

Achievement: Applications to magnet schools will be managed to keep from enrolling too many low-achieving students in a single school. This situation is most prevalent in east and southeast Raleigh.

Managing magnet school enrollments this way means there will not be enough seats for all students who live inside the Beltline. For those students, additional high-achieving Regional School choices will be offered outside the Beltline.

District leaders expect that paying attention to the academic mix of schools in this fashion and promising stability for everyone will have a positive effect on achievement.

Other differences:

  • All applications within a given application period are treated the same regardless of when they are filed. There is no advantage to filing choices early or late. Once the registration deadline passes, however, all requests are locked in.

  • Do not choose a school you aren’t sure you want to attend. Once you are granted a seat, that seat is yours. There is no longer a “base school” you can fall back on just in case you change your mind.

  • The earliest rounds of choice offer the most seats.

  • Because schools are effectively competing for students in a controlled environment, real-time information – from the number of available seats during registration to a school’s academic standing – is likely to become far more important. Much like magnet schools today, all schools will need to consider how to “sell their programs” to parents.

The first year of the plan is estimated to cost about $700,000 with some of the initial expenses decreasing after the first year. A companion resolution also calls for a monitoring committee led by the superintendent to offer quarterly updates and recommendations for future changes.

Recognizing opportunities to close the gap

Broadening students' math exposure, visiting other cultures, finding the catalyst for scientific exploration – these are examples of how public education will close a widening global achievement gap.

Those thoughts were offered during an hour of discussion last week by panel of community leaders who spoke at Wake Education Partnership's 2011 Education Summit.

More than 400 business leaders, educators and elected officials attended the event where they heard SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson, Wake schools Superintendent Tony Tata and VIF International Education CEO David Young provide insights into what is being done -- and what needs to be done -- to ensure today’s graduates leave school with the skills they need for a global economy.

"We need another Sputnik," Woodson said. "We need another defining mission to stimulate interest in science and technology."
For students in K-12, that means building on public interest in creating more schools that emphasize global awareness and courses in science, technology, engineering and math.

 For college students, especially future teachers, it means increasing opportunities to study abroad. Education majors are among the least likely to travel abroad while in college, Young said.

While the general public often has difficulty defining or even understanding the need for global skills, the urgency was apparent to the panelists.

“This year in the U.S. we have 574 new hires,” Goodnight said. “The breakdown of that is 388 had bachelor’s degrees, 149 had master’s degrees and 37 had PhDs. That’s the kind of workforce we are looking for.”

Said Tata, who traveled to dozens of countries during his 28-year military career: “I saw the products of their education systems. I know that it is an increasingly competitive world.”

Valued worked are the ones who know how to tackle projects together and take the initiative to be creative, panelists said. And there is no reason to assume work partners will be in the same office – or even the same country.

Science, technology, engineering and math – often referred to as STEM – “is inherently an international field,” Young said. “One of the things we need to realize up front is that anyone we’re investing STEM dollars in here in the U.S. will likely be working in an international field with international colleagues on international teams. It’s a global economy and will be a global economy forever.”



… Drew Cook of Garner Magnet High School has been named Wake County’s 2011 Principal of the Year. Cook has been in education for 14 years and has been principal of Garner Magnet High for 2.5 years. Prior to that, he was an assistant principal and teacher at Garner High. In addition, Syreeta Smith of North Forest Pines Elementary was named 2011 Assistant Principal of the Year in ceremonies last week.


Robinson… Wake Education Partnership is pleased to announce that Rev. Marion Robinson, pastor of St. Matthew A.M.E. Church in Raleigh, is the recipient of the 2011 Vernon Malone Friend of Education Award. The annual award recognizes individuals who have been unwavering in their support of public education.  Rev. Robinson is co-founder of the Harriet B. Webster Task Force for Student Success and has worked with Wake County's educators for nearly two decades to help close the academic achievement gap. A press release and video can be found on the Partnership’s web site.


…Wake County’s school board elections Oct. 11 left one race undecided with a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 8 between District 3 incumbent Kevin Hill and Heather Losurdo, who finished second in the four-person field. You can find links to their websites and other information at the Partnership’s Election Resource Page. Winners in the Oct. 118 election were Keith Sutton, Christine Kushner, Jim Martin and Susan Evans.


Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications, at tsimmons@wakeedpartnership.org or visit our website at www.wakeedpartnership.org.