I have a confession: As the mother of a rising kindergartner, there's a tiny part of me that likes the Wake County School Board's vision of neighborhood schools. My house sits on a one-block street, but there's a line beside my yard that sends my kids to a different school than the kids next door. Our assigned school isn't far, but it's not in our neighborhood, either. I'd love for my children to attend school here, in our neighborhood. We could walk there in 20 minutes, joining with friends to form a daily parade. They would be in school with kids they know, and whose parents I know—a good school that's safe, familiar and stable.
But as a former teacher and a current parent, public education advocate and taxpayer, I cannot support an approach that could lead to resegregated schools, no matter how lovely my personal scenario might seem.
I don't want my children in a school with fewer qualified teachers or high teacher turnover, both of which contribute to instability. And I don't want my children in a school where the PTA struggles to raise funds and find volunteers to support classroom basics. And I don't want my children in a school where students must achieve in spite of the odds stacked against them. Because I don't want these things for my children, I don't want them for any children in Wake County.
These are the things that my research and experience tell me happen in schools overwhelmed by poverty. It's not because poor students are less capable or some other hogwash about poor kids needing to sit beside rich kids in order to learn. Students in poverty simply face so many additional challenges that work against their success. The neighborhoods in Wake County aren't different than those in much of the country—by and large, they're sorted by socioeconomic status, meaning a neighborhood approach to student assignment will create a system of haves and have-nots in our schools.
When my son starts kindergarten later this year, he and I won't care whether he's sitting next to the child of a millionaire or a child whose parents struggle to put food on the table each night. What will matter to us is knowing that he is in a safe, nurturing school environment, that he has dedicated teachers with the experience and enthusiasm to help children learn, and that he and his classmates can grow together as they explore the world around them. I support policies that help make those things happen at every school in every town across Wake County, not just in "the right neighborhoods" or in those that managed to defy some odds.
Like many parents, I wrestle with making decisions in the best interest of my own children. But our teachers, administrators and elected officials don't have the luxury of focusing on a few children. The law requires them to do what is in the best interest of all children, regardless of what neighborhood they live in or who their parents are—even if it means my kids won't be walking to school.