Wednesday, March 16, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            EDITOR - This is part 4 of a multi-part look at Walnut Creek Elementary School, and the other high poverty schools that the conservative-led Wake County School Board will be creating in Southeast Raleigh as it moves forward with its controversial neighborhood schools policy. Studies consistently show black and Hispanic students are relegated to poor instruction, a lack of resources and a second-rate education in high poverty, racially identifiable schools. The property values in neighborhoods with high poverty schools also suffer, as families move away.
            The Carolinian examines the question, “Will all or any of this happen in Wake County?”

            Last Tuesday, the Wake Public School Board announced that it had chosen Corey A. Moore, currently an assistant principal at Middle Creek High School in Apex, as the principal of the new Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh.
            When the new $25 million traditional calendar school opens in August, it will be home to a predominately black and Hispanic student population from the surrounding Southeast Raleigh neighborhood that could be as high as 81 percent Free and Reduced lunch (F&R), with 52 percent classified as “low-performing.”
            For all intent and purposes, a super high poverty school, one that Wake Supt. Anthony Tata, in his 2011-12 proposed budget, promises will have a “strong opening” when it comes to much-needed resources and staffing.
            Observers say it’s not the “strong opening” of Walnut Creek they’re worried about, but the continuing commitment of needed resources to the school in the years after if it remains high poverty.
“In the research that I’ve been reviewing over the years, in schools with high levels of poverty, it is a difficult challenge to keep highly qualified teachers in those buildings, and to attract talented, creative, hard driving principals to help kids learn,” Wake Supt. Del Burns told The Carolinian in February 2010, days after he resigned for refusing to carry out the Wake School Board’s neighborhood schools policy. “You can find those exceptions…one school’s heroic efforts, but you can’t sustain that.”
Even Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a staunch critic of the Republican-led Wake School Board, is concerned about whether the board is up to the challenge of equitably funding the high poverty schools it creates.
“There’s no question that if we have a series of high poverty schools like Walnut Creek Elementary that The Carolinian has been writing about, it’s going to be very hard for the students to achieve,” Meeker says.
Moore, who has also served as principal at Weldon High here, and principal at Hampton Elementary in Greensboro ten years ago, will get a $7,000 bonus, on top of his $78,102 annual salary, to lead Walnut Creek.
            But before Principal Moore takes a nickel, he better give Stan Frazier a call.
            Frazier is a retired principal from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School System (CMS), which is in deep financial trouble after spending tens of millions trying to fix its plethora of high poverty/low performing schools - ten of which are now scheduled for closure as a result of the high costs.
            An alumnus of Johnson C. Smith University, Frazier, a native Charlottean, spent 35 years in education (20 years more than Moore, and 33 beyond Wake Supt. Tata’s professional experience), 15 of which he served as a principal of schools both rich and poor.
            “I worked at one school which was very rich. The homes were as large as the school,” Frazier said during an interview for a mini-documentary last October for Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes the Wake School Board’s neighborhood schools policy.
            “And I’ve worked at several impoverished schools. I worked at one school that had 92 percent F&R, but we had the third highest growth in reading in CMS.”
            The veteran principal made it a point to role model a 100 percent commitment to the communities in which his schools were in, usually being the first at the school in the morning, and the last to leave in the evening.
            Frazier’s long experience in CMS high poverty schools taught him that to motivate high poverty/academically challenged students, you have to motivate and energize the world they live in.
            It’s not easy, thus the $7,000 bonus Tata is giving Moore.
Coming to class five days a week during school hours isn’t enough to help academically challenged students, Frazier insists. Motivating parents, teachers and everyone else in a collective to capture the minds and hearts of the students was the goal, Frazier says, or else failure would always be their calling card.
“In impoverished schools, you don’t see as many parents that are involved [compared to upper-class parents]. There could be a number of reasons,” Frazier says. “Many parents work two and three jobs. Many parents don’t work, and they’re embarrassed because their experiences in school weren’t as good.”
“Often you have young parents who are embarrassed sometimes to come to classes. There’s a new culture and new generation. You may have some grandmothers who are 33; great-grandmothers who are 43; great-great-great-grandmothers who are 53; great-great-great-great-grandmothers who are 63. So the culture and dynamics have really changed,” Frazier says.
"Sometimes, guardianship is not always clear in low-income households, and as principal, you have to find a way to determine who is responsible for a student’s needs,” Frazier adds.
Being “very visible” in the community of that high poverty school is another factor for principals in building a trusting relationship, and working partnerships with the parents of children attending in that neighborhood.
“I would meet with the neighborhood associations,” Frazier said. “I would go down to the [community] centers. I would shop in some of the grocery stores in the area that I worked. I would visit churches in the area where our kids attended.”
Principal Frazier also found himself playing basketball and tennis in the neighborhood, “…so I was always visible, whether I lived in that community or not, and [the students] would see me on occasions.”
Frazier even visited students in apartment complexes that were deemed dangerous or unsafe to visit.
“But if I showed that I really welcomed them to the school, I had to show that I was part of their community,” Principal Frazier said.
“Some of those things are lacking now for fear, for unknown reasons, but it was pertinent to me that I would always be visible in the community.”
What about teachers in high poverty schools? Teacher turnover in CMS high poverty schools is high, primarily because many are first or second-year instructors with very little urban education training.
“You have many young teachers who come in frightened because they’ve never worked in a inner city school before, or with urban kids,” Frazier says. “Many of our teachers in Charlotte-Meck were recruited from Pennsylvania, which was perceived to have some of the better teachers. Many of these teachers came from rural communities, that may have had no minority kids. So when you come into an urban school, you may not understand culture; you may not understand the dynamics of family; your social mores are totally different; so it would have to be a total paradigm shift.”
“Now if teachers were willing to do that, the growth could be there,” Principal Frazier continued. “Some teachers fit right in; some fit in too much; and some were too frightened to fit in. The ones that were too frightened didn’t sustain, or they wanted to move to a different school.”
“The ones that sustained became excellent teachers.”
Frazier carefully interviewed his teaching candidates, not only to ensure that they could do the job, but also to minimize what normally is the high turnover ratio associated with high poverty schools. His teachers had to “enjoy” working a “mostly diverse environment.”
That meant joining the principal on a school bus and riding through neighborhoods to see the tough environments where their most challenged students and their families lived. It also meant taking teachers to Latino restaurants, ordering off a menu they didn’t understand, and trying to communicate with the waiters what they wanted.
“I wanted them to feel and understand what that was like, because often when there are cultural challenges, if we can’t walk a mile in a [student’s] shoe we don’t understand what we’re dealing with,” Frazier said.
The veteran Charlotte educator said it all starts with the commitment from the principal to the students and the community, especially when it comes to a high poverty school that must succeed. Principal Frazier noted his “extremely long hours” worked that even his CMS superiors were not aware of. The first mistake that new principals make, Frazier insists, is not immediately making efforts to solidly connect with the powerbrokers of the neighborhood in which that school resides. Building solid partnerships and relationships with civic and religious leaders there, opens lines of communication, and, over time, develops levels of much needed support.
“I invited the neighborhood association to have their meetings in my building,” Principal Frazier said. “The premise was, ‘This is your school, the school is in your neighborhood.'”
Strategically, Frazier always made sure that he had a student activity going on in the building so community people could see empowerment on display, and the halls adorned with positive representations of either work being done at the school, or works that “deemed success.”
“The conversations were always about success, and offering things even the magnet schools weren’t offering,” Frazier said. That promoted important partnerships, especially with the faith-based community. By attending many of the churches his students attended, Principal Frazier was able to attract volunteers to work at the school assisting those students.
That also helped with discipline problems, as many of the older church volunteers would encourage students to work harder in their studies, and have better attendance in school.
If there was one quality that Principal Frazier valued as important as academic achievement with his students, it was the building of character.
“My thing was always building character. If you build character, those kids will follow you everywhere, and they’ll thrive on it, but you have to know how to do that. Zero tolerance is not the way.”
So if Walnut Creek Principal Corey Moore is to be successful, he has to make sure, according to the Frazier template, that he hires teachers who understand the craft of their job, and assimilating that skill to teaching kids who may learn differently.
Disgard the conventional way of teaching if necessary.  Standing up before a class and lecturing to kids sitting in a row of chairs may not work in reaching children who are at a different energy level. Use music when appropriate, and be savvy about where your students are coming from, and how they see the world.
“Be a builder,” Frazier adds, and have teachers also call parents for positive things that their children accomplish, not just the negative.
After talking with Frazier, Principal Moore may also want to give his old boss, former Wake Supt. Del Burns, a call as well.
If Moore is to be successful, and many in the community hope he will be for the sake of his new students, then he must be prepared to fight his own superintendent, if necessary, to ensure that he gets all of the resources the principal of a super high poverty school will need to improve student achievement.
And the community must help him.
        “It is clear that, in those cases for the children to succeed [in high poverty schools], there’s a requirement for much greater resources than in other schools,” Burns told
The Carolinian last year, “ and I think it would be very important, if that’s the case, to ask the questions as to how those resources will be provided, and to make sure that once provided, that they remain in the schools.”
Translation - beyond Supt. Tata’s 2011-12 proposed budget in the face of ever-shrinking revenue streams; lower per pupil spending; and more school system staff layoffs to come in the face of a growing student population; the African-American community must consistently and effectively demand that Walnut Creek Elementary and other high poverty schools created by the Wake School Board’s looming long-term student assignment plan, must be adequately, and continually staffed and resourced to meet the challenges ahead.
Anything less, observers say, condemns those students, in the words of a Wake County Superior Court judge, “academic genocide.”
Editor’s note - The community can weigh in on the future of Walnut Creek Elementary School will meet again this Friday, 7 to 9 p.m. at Compassionate Tabernacle of Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 2320 Compassionate Drive in Raleigh.


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