Parent Input Aids Student Assignment Planning

The last phase of the latest student assignment will be the result of parent input and student data.

Wake County Public School System plans to open one middle school, two elementary schools, and one application-only high school for the 2017-18 school year. The parents around one of those elementary schools have been very active in trying to keep their base school in West Cary.

The parents in the Cary Park area of western Wake County are mostly assigned to the Mills Park Elementary School, and the opening of Hortons Creek Elementary next August has caused parents to organize and advocate to stay at Mills Park. They have delivered petitions with hundreds of signatures to the school board, spoken during public comment periods at school board meetings, and worked with school staff to try to find the best outcome for the assignment plan.

In one meeting that school board members had with parents of the Cary Park subdivision, it was mentioned that it seemed like the school system had shifted their assignments a number of times over the years. When school staff investigated, they discovered that there’s some merit to that argument.

“A lot of families in the area have been affected with the growth,” said Laura Evans, the senior director of student assignment.

Going back just 10 years, families in that area have been reassigned or experienced a calendar change at a number of WCPSS schools, especially at the elementary level. Depending on the spacing of a family’s children, it might take 15 years or more for a household to go through an elementary school from the time the oldest child enters kindergarten until the youngest child exits fifth grade.

It’s very reasonable that during those 10 years parents would have had a calendar or school change at least once. However, in a high-growth area like West Cary, it is happening more frequently.

A chart presented to the school board at a recent work session showed that in 2007-8 fourth graders at Highcroft Drive and Green Hope elementary schools were moved to Mills Park Elementary just for fifth grade in 2008-9.

In sixth grade they were split between Salem and West Cary middle schools in 2009-10. Then they were moved again in 2010-11 to Mills Park Middle School when that school opened.

That was just one scenario, and some board members were surprised to see that there was so much change in such a short amount of time. They were hopeful not to repeat it, but they had a similar scenario sitting in front of them as some students from the current fourth grade at Mills Park Elementary are scheduled to be assigned to Hortons Creek next year for fifth grade, Mills Park Middle for sixth grade and then the new M16 middle school for seventh and eighth grade.

School Board Chairman Tom Benton offered a unique idea. He suggested “opening” the M16 middle school within Mills Park in 2018 for the sixth graders who will go to that new middle school when it opens in 2019.

“That might be some help if that group of students, teachers, and parents, were moved together,” Benton said.

“We aren’t going to be able to get a perfect solution because there isn’t a perfect solution,” said board member Jim Martin.

School board members have not received as much parent input from the area around Rogers Lane Elementary which will be just east of Downtown Raleigh. The school board named Wendell Elementary Principal Shane Barham as principal of that new school. River Bend Middle, which will open on a traditional calendar will draw mainly from East Millbrook Middle, Rolesville Middle, Durant Middle, Wendell Middle, and East Wake Middle.

The next draft will be presented to the school board in the coming weeks and a public hearing will be scheduled to offer a final public comment period in December.

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