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Friday, February 26, 2010

School board on the brink; Debra Goldman has the comm

Posted by on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 11:18 PM

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The Wake school board will debate a resolution Tuesday calling for all hands on deck (not you, Del Burns; or you, Chuck Dulaney) to write and begin to execute a plan for community assignment zones over the next 9-15 months -- in time to take effect at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. The full resolution is copied below the fold.

In short, the new majority, or at least four of its five members, are chomping at the bit to junk the current policy of balanced student assignments -- assignments which are based on proximity to a school but factor in as well the desirability of diverse student bodies -- in favor of their preferred "neighborhood schools" approach.

To critics, this amounts to re-segregation of the county system three decades after the Wake-Raleigh schools merger and integration.

Here's the heart of the majority's proposal:

Whereas, stability and continuity play a critical role in the positive development and support of our children, families, and communities. Within a framework of stability providing logical feeder patterns with limited disruptions in child placement, families should be provided with reasonable application options for their assignments, taking into account capacity and utilization of local facilities.

Whereas, extensive growth over the past two decades has resulted in our existing node-based assignment modeling to require numerous adjustments that have compounded over the years, resulting in challenges to meet demand and efficiency. Further, with the current three year assignment plan set to expire in 2012, a new plan will need to be implemented.

Whereas, the Wake County School Board supports community based school assignments. The alignment of these assignments with the existing zone based management tools of the Wake County Public School System, such as but not limited to Transportation Services, Facilities Maintenance and Management, and Staff Leadership, would produce more efficient and cost effective operations.

Be it hereby resolved:

1.    The Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone based assignment model will be developed during the next 9 – 15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials.

[If that's not John Tedesco's patented Pittsburgh syntax, I'll buy him a bagel.]

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I wrote about assignment zones as Tedesco seems to envision them a few weeks ago in the Indy. To put it mildly, I think they're a terrible idea.

Community assignment zones would sound the death knell for a unified Wake County school system that's earned national acclaim.

A unified system like Wake's (and Wake's system is rare in a country that segregates its residents, and their children, by income) stresses equality -- rich and poor kids in every school; no "bad schools." That's what the diversity policy is about.

Zones, by contrast, are inherently unequal. Wherever you draw the lines, you create winners on one side -- the more affluent side -- and losers on the other. Tedesco and Board Chair Ron Margiotta know that from first-hand experience, as I do -- all three of us are former residents of New Jersey, a state where virtually every one of the 566 municipalities is its own school district, or in some cases two districts. People move to be in the "better" district. The "bad" ones have schools with lots of poor kids and no taxes to educate them.

On Wednesday, the board's policy committee debated stripping diversity out of the current student assignment policy (Policy 6200). In a surprise, when Chris Malone moved to adopt the new majority's proposed language, fellow majority-member Debra Goldman demurred, declining to offer a second to his motion. She said she wanted to think about it awhile and look at whatever data people wanted to bring forward about the impact of diversity on student achievement.

Two days later, Margiotta puts out an agenda for the next full board meeting that, in effect, would go around Goldman -- if it passes. But it won't pass without her vote; the 5-4 majority isn't a majority without her. If she's not ready to go along, the resolution will fail.

Is she ready? Stay tuned.

It might be prudent for the board, before it plunges everyone in the county into the pitched warfare that will accompany any attempt to draw zones, to hold hearings on whether the idea itself makes any sense.

On the other hand, even if the majority does decide to jump off the cliff, it doesn't necessarily mean that their attempt to create assignment zones will actually result in zones; indeed, it may be that it will take them trying to do it, and flopping around in the public spotlight while they do, for them to realize how destructive zones are.

Committee of the whole meets at 12 noon Tuesday. Official session follows at 3, with a public comment period at 4 -- which should be prior to any possible action on the resolution.

The proposed resolution (h/t: The News & Observer) --

Resolution Establishing Board Directive for Community Based School Assignments

Whereas, the Wake County Board of Education holds a strong commitment to the highest educational results for ALL children in an effort to allow them to reach their full potential and better our community.

Whereas, ALL children regardless of race, creed, economic status, or nationality are capable of high academic achievement when provided instruction of rigor and relevance. The utilization of objective, data-driven decisions better supports these efforts than subjective classification and profiling of students.

Whereas, ALL children, families, schools, teachers, and neighborhoods are stakeholders that benefit from a strong sense of community and a high quality education, and proximity to a child’s school affects opportunities for engagement of all stakeholders.

Whereas, stability and continuity play a critical role in the positive development and support of our children, families, and communities. Within a framework of stability providing logical feeder patterns with limited disruptions in child placement, families should be provided with reasonable application options for their assignments, taking into account capacity and utilization of local facilities.

Whereas, extensive growth over the past two decades has resulted in our existing node-based assignment modeling to require numerous adjustments that have compounded over the years, resulting in challenges to meet demand and efficiency. Further, with the current three year assignment plan set to expire in 2012, a new plan will need to be implemented.

Whereas, the Wake County School Board supports community based school assignments. The alignment of these assignments with the existing zone based management tools of the Wake County Public School System, such as but not limited to Transportation Services, Facilities Maintenance and Management, and Staff Leadership, would produce more efficient and cost effective operations.

Be it hereby resolved:

1.    The Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone based assignment model will be developed during the next 9 – 15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials.

2.    The final approved model by the Board of Education must include:

•    A multi-year transition plan that limits impact on student reassignment and ensures program equity within each zone.

•    A plan that will be respectful of our history as a community and an institution, while being innovative and mindful of future growth.

•    A plan that ensures a commitment to a high quality education for ALL children.

•    A plan that creates consistent and logical feeder patterns with a defined plan for “optional choice” assignment opportunities. These opportunities will highlight strong support for high quality year-round and magnet schools as viable options for families, while planning for both a vocational and alternative school.

•    A plan that is effective and efficient in the utilization of our facilities and transportation fleet.

•    A plan that establishes better alignment of internal management systems and functions.

•    A strategy that supports and promotes high functioning and engaged communities.

•    A plan to support families and keep siblings from being separated by tracks or schools without parental consent.

3.    In the interim, the Wake County Public Schools will remain engaged in the Board approved three year assignment plan. When considered appropriate, approved adjustments to the existing plan will occur in accordance with past practices on an individual basis, including node adjustments, calendar conversions, and school designations. Decisions regarding these adjustments should take into account the future planning directive underway.

1.    Be it further resolved that effective immediately: Board level committees, WCPSS departments, and other administrative committees with relevant responsibilities, assignments or authority are directed to prepare constructive suggestions to support the development of the above noted transition, and be mindful in their approach to decision making that could impact these future directives.

2.    Prior to June 30, 2010, the Growth and Planning Department and the Instructional Services Division (including a separate plan for the Research and Evaluation Department shall establish and present a transition plan to the Board of Education that will utilize non-discriminatory, objective, data-driven criteria, tools, and practices over existing subjective methods. All plans should include short term (within 12 months) and long term (up to 3 years) action items with clearly defined benchmarks.

3.    Any applicants to an existing “optional choice” assignment shall not be discriminated against based upon economic status in the selection process.

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