Wake school board's debate stings principals

Monday, February 28, 2011

- Staff Writer

RALEIGH -- Wake County principals, the on-the-ground managers who carry out the school board's policies, have been publicly mum during the bitter debate over Wake's shift to neighborhood schools.
But an informal, anonymous poll - conducted last month by Wake's new superintendent - indicates that at least 20 percent of the county's principals strongly oppose the move away from a student-assignment policy that used socio economic factors to balance school enrollment - or at least opposed how the school board has conducted itself during the past year.
Only one of the 163 principals praised efforts to send students to schools closer to where they live.
"The tone for the current board majority is disrespectful to school staff members." one principal wrote. "... Political agendas prevail at the expense of students. What was once a flagship system is now a national joke."
The sentiment emerged during a meeting organized by new Superintendent Tony Tata. On Jan. 31, Tata's first day as superintendent, he gave each principal index cards. He asked them to anonymously list three things that Wake should stop doing and the three things the district, budget permitting, should be doing.
Tata, who said he's reviewing the cards, wanted the comments to be anonymous so that the principals "would speak their mind."
Copies of the index cards were obtained by The News & Observer last week after a public records request.
The responses offered a rare glimpse into the thinking of Wake schools' top administrators. Tata said the comments don't reflect widespread staff dissatisfaction with the school board, adding that everybody is working toward a common goal of improving the school district.
"It doesn't surprise me that there would be a handful of them that are going to bevocal," Tata said of the critical principals. "There are nine school board members who want what's best for Wake County."
Dislike the bickering
Indeed, most of the principals steered clear of talking about student assignment and the school board.
The small group of dissenting principals wrote that they supported the old policy of using diversity in student assignments.
More than 20 principals,many of whom didn't comment on the diversity policy, also complained about the bickering on the school board and accused board members of serving special interests.
"Help calm the fears of those teachers etc. working in Wake -- the Board has truly divided this system," wrote one principal to Tata. "Many wonderful educators want to leave Wake because of the Board actions."
Another principal wrote of the need to start "rebuilding relationships and respect between" the staff and school board. "The WCPSS staff perceive that [the school board] ... has zero interest in building positive relationships with central office staff and school administrators."
School board Chairman Ron Margiotta, who heads the majority that voted to eliminate the use of diversity in the student assignment policy last year, said he expects the principals who disagree with the board's direction to be professional enough to do their jobs.
"As long as they understand they have an obligation to follow the directions of the leadership, it's OK with me," Margiotta said. "That's part of life."
School board member Carolyn Morrison said the negative comments shouldn't affect those principals' performance. Morrison is a retired Wake principal and supporter of the old diversity policy. "You're trained to be a professional and not let your personal feelings affect how you act," Morrison said.
The school board, which has argued internally and with the public, has put the student assignment issue in Tata's hands.
Tata has formed a task force that he hopes will present a long-term student assignment plan to the school board by late spring. One of the things the task force will consider is a proposal from the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership to factor test scores into a plan that would allow families to choose where they want to go while trying to prevent schools from having too many low-achieving students.
Fear Charlotte model
Several principals warned that Wake shouldn't emulate Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, which abandoned the use of busing for diversity in 2002. The number of schools in Charlotte with high concentrations of poor and minority students has shot up over the past nine years, but the district's minority and low-income students outperform their peers in Wake on some state exams.
Wake should "not go down road of Charlotte schools where critics say they have ghetto schools," one Wake principal wrote.
School board members differed over what the comments on the diversity policy and the board mean.
School board member Chris Malone said that the board questioning staff about issues shouldn't be perceived as disrespect. He added that it's fine with him if principals disagree with the board as long as they're doing their job of educating the students. "If we ask tough questions as a school board that they find to be a problem, then maybe they should look for another job," Malone said.
School board member Keith Sutton thinks the principals who spoke out could represent a larger group of principals who support the old diversity policy. He said Wake needs to do a better job of listening to principals and teachers before making decisions.
"I'm also encouraged that the superintendent gave them an opportunity where they could share their thoughts with him," Sutton said.
But Malone said one could also interpret the comments to indicate that most of Wake's principals support the move to neighborhood schools. He said people would be making "assumptions" on the beliefs of principals who didn't comment on the diversity policy.
Other ideas on the cards
As for other comments from the principals, no one issue was raised by a majority.
Among the ideas that got a lot of support were increasing funding for technology in schools and expanding the number of alternative schools.
On things that Wake should stop, two that were among the most mentioned were adding too many initiatives at a time and piling paperwork on teachers, principals and schools. Tata and Malone said reducing paperwork should be a priority.
"If teachers could have less paperwork they could spend more time with the class," Malone said. "We're turning them into bureaucrats instead of letting them be teachers."

Knightdale 100 Literacy Forum

Friday, February 18, 2011

Knightdale 100 Members, Friends and Neighbors,

As a parent of an elementary school child I think this is the K100 Forum you can't afford to miss! Like you, I am a soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and swim mom that is realizing that I have a lot to learn about becoming a reading-mom. According to NC Report Card almost 40% of Knightdale's 3rd graders are not passing the NC End-of-Grade Reading test and we parents cannot expect our teachers to carry this burden alone. The reality is that I am a middle school teacher, I read with my son every night, and yet he struggles with language and I don't understand why.

"Our nation's children are in danger, not from terrorism, not from bigotry, not from hunger or poverty, but from illiteracy. The one thing that can lift our society up from our ignorance and fear-literacy-is gone. It is slipping from our grasp, clinging by a thread." - anonymous mom after viewing "Waiting for Superman"

On Thursday, February 24th (7-8:30pm) K100 is hosting an extraordinary forum on literacy. The speakers are NCSU's and Wake County Public School's finest EXPERTS on teaching and learning to read!

“The Science Behind Literacy Learning and Teaching”
Steve Amendum, Ph.D., NCSU Faculty, Literacy Education

“Elementary School Reading Programs”
Wake County Public School System’s Literacy Team

Darryl T. Fisher, Senior Director: Elementary Programs/K-12 Intervention
James Overman, Senior Director: Elementary Programs/Instructional Technology
Dr. Sherri Merritt, Director: K-12 Literacy
Sharon Collins, Senior Administrator: Elementary Language Arts
Rebecca McGee, Title I Senior Administrator

Please see the attached Forum agenda and join us. More importantly...please forward to your neighbors and friends!

Shannon Russell Hardy (Dax and Brenna's mom)

Knightdale 100


Wake schools getting more students, not more funding

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County commissioners met with school board members Wednesday and said they plan to give the school system $313.5 million in funding – the same amount the school system has received the past two years.

Some school board members said they consider that a cut since the school system will increase by more than 3,600 students in 2012, which means less money per pupil.
School board member Chris Malone said they should be happy with what the commissioners have offered.
"Considering the situation we’re in, I think we gotta be pleased with what we have and just hope to buckle down and find ways to save money so it doesn’t affect the classroom," he said.
Many other Wake County departments are facing 3 percent cuts, commissioners said.
"We know that it’s just a tight year, and the staff’s doing everything possible to check to see if there are other ways in which we might approach this. But, so far, we haven’t found anything," said commissioner Betty Lou Ward.

Reporter: Renee Chou

Photographer: Keith Baker

Web Editor: Kelly Hinchcliffe

Schools plan wins early nod

Monday, February 14, 2011

BY T. KEUNG HUI - Staff Writer (newsobserver.com)

After more than a year of intense debate that has brought harsh words and even arrests, a radically new model for assigning students to Wake County's schools is getting support from different factions on the school board.
The proposal, presented Friday by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership, is billed as a way to let more families choose to attend neighborhood schools while also offering something to those who want diversity in student assignments. Instead of being assigned to a specific school based on their addresses, families would rank where they'd want to go from a list of school choices. Efforts would be made to prevent schools from having too many low-performing students.
Republican and Democratic school board members said they're willing to study the new proposal, known as "controlled choice."
"It's a very interesting first step," said school board member Anne McLaurin. "It has a lot of data and a lot of well-thought-out research."
School board member John Tedesco favorably compared the new model with the one he had been working on to divide the county into 16 assignment zones. "This is a plan that's 80 to 90 percent right," he said.
School board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman, whose October swing vote killed Tedesco's zone plan, suggested that the new proposal be referred to Superintendent Tony Tata for staff review.
"It gives us a starting point," added school board Chairman Ron Margiotta.
The new plan comes out at a time of uncertainty about student assignment in the state's largest school district.
The GOP school board majority voted last spring to eliminate the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignments. Instead, the majority favored sending children to neighborhood schools. But Goldman's defection on the Tedesco plan left the school board without a long-term proposal of its own for implementing a new student assignment policy.  In effect for 2012-13
Staff members will be developing a long-term assignment plan that would be in effect in the 2012-13 school year. Goldman said Friday she wants the board to speed approval of the plan so that parents will know by the end of this summer their assignments for next year and have time to prepare.
Goldman added that she's not necessarily saying that Friday's plan is the one that should be used.
With the school board at a standstill, the chamber of commerce and the Wake Education Partnership presented the plan Friday that was developed by education consultant Michael Alves. Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of The News & Observer, is on the board of trustees of the Wake Education Partnership.
Alves was asked to develop a plan based on four guiding principles - proximity, stability, family choice and student achievement. All of those except student achievement are factors that are part of the school board's revised student assignment policy.
Using those four principles, families would be given a variety of schools to choose from, based on where they live. A computer program would evaluate various factors to determine which school a student would get.
"It puts a large part of control in the parents' hands, which is what they asked for," said Steve Parrott, Wake Education Partnership president.
Both the leadership of the Wake Education Partnership and the chamber had supported Wake's old diversity policy. But they said they were mindful of the board's desire to send students to schools closer to where they live. They pointed out how people who ask for their closest school would get priority under the controlled choice model.
At the same time, both groups said efforts to limit the percentages of low-performing students at schools would produce diversity.
"Diversity matters in all of our lives," said Gary Joyner, chairman of the chamber's board. "We expect diversity to be a natural outgrowth of this plan. But this plan does not mandate diversity."
Tim Simmons, vice president of communications for Wake Education Partnership, said student achievement would be considered in determining which schools to offer to families.
Student achievement - in the form of test scores or whether a child entering kindergarten had gone to preschool - also would be used in helping to determine individual student selections. But Parrott stressed that parents of low-performing children who want to get into their closest school would get their choice if seats are available.
School board member Chris Malone said he has questions about whether the use of student achievement is a proxy for restoring the old diversity policy. But he said he's willing to look at the plan.
"This is coming from groups that aren't partial to the [school board] majority, so I'm keeping a wary eye," Malone said. "It's worth it to keep it in consideration and to give it to staff to look at."
Harvey Schmitt, president of the chamber, said he expects the school board to review and change the plan if it's adopted.
"This is not the Alves plan," Schmitt said. "This is the community's plan. This is just the starting point for the conversation."