Thursday, April 28, 2011


By Cash Michaels

EDITOR - This is part 6 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?”
            When Corey A. Moore, the new principal of Walnut Creek Elementary School, formally opens the $25 million high poverty school in Southeast Raleigh this August, he’ll be responsible for a lot, the least of which is how to successfully lead a school where over 80 percent of its 700-plus students are on free-and-reduced lunch, and over 50 percent are officially considered “low-performing.”
            “I believe that my experiences and past have prepared me for this opportunity, and I’m standing prepared to lead in a direction that will take this school straight up,” Moore assured supporters in March after he was appointed.
            Indeed, regardless of how stacked a deck Moore’s challenge will be - a challenge created by the Republican-led Wake School Board to establish the first manifestation of their controversial neighborhood schools policy - its even steeper than he realizes.
            As goes the school, so may go the neighborhood.
            Across the street and down the road from the new high poverty challenge on Sunnybrook Road off of Rock Quarry Road, is the Quarry Pointe subdivision.
            With an average selling price of $144,410 per single-family unit, the clean, attractive, relatively new middle-class housing development where, according to, the median income is $46,185; 69 percent of the homeowners are married couples that are both working; and over 25 percent of families there have children, 3 years-old and above, who are enrolled school K-12, the last thing this young community needs is anything that would drive down its collective property values.
            The bad economy is already having a staggering effect on home prices, though the Raleigh-Cary housing market was ranked Number One in Builder Magazine’s “Healthiest Markets for 2011” rankings last month.
            But experts say a bad school could definitely sprout “For Sale” signs in the immediate neighborhood.
            District 4 Wake School Board member Keith Sutton, Walnut Creek Elementary Principal Corey Moore, and others committed to the high poverty school’s success are working hard to prevent that, but at best, they’re running hard to catch up. Rarely does a new school open with the strikes against it that Walnut Creek has. If it can’t immediately show significant improvement in academic achievement, regardless of the student body’s high poverty level, experts say the school's reputation will begin to hurt surrounding housing values.
            It’s something Quarry Pointe residents may have to watch, and a concern that has already been raised at a recent Wake School Board meeting two weeks ago.
            “In many other cities in the US, real estate agents will discourage you from buying [a home] in certain areas, due to the poor quality of schools in the area,” Stephanie Enders, a parent speaking during the public comment period, told the school board, noting that because of Wake’s previously successful socioeconomic student diversity policy, “ have the ability to live anywhere in the county, and know that your child is going to get a good, solid public education.”
            Wake’s experience bears Enders out. 
It was the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and local realty association that backed the Wake school system's move to socioeconomic diversity a decade ago in a drive to attract more businesses, and families, to the area from across the country. The resulting academic achievement resulted in Wake being rated one of the top public school systems in the nation by Forbes Magazine, among others, with thousands of families buying homes in the area.
So it was no accident that those same concerns - namely the Raleigh Chamber and local realtors - were sweating bullets after the Republican-led Wake School Board began changing to neighborhood schools as a policy. The disruption forced the chamber to immediately find a compromise student assignment plan to submit - one that emphasized controlled parental choice - in order to placate the business and realty communities.
A final student assignment plan is expected by the end of spring, and realtors hope it's one that allows them to comfortably sell the school system as an asset again, especially after all of the negative national press it has received.
            Warning that the proven byproduct of a neighborhood schools policy, “…are great divides of highly desirable and undesirable areas,” Ms. Enders, in her remarks to the Wake school board, added,  “For the most part, Wake County doesn’t suffer this condition.”           
            But Charlotte does.
            Mary Lou Knox is a longtime realtor of 27 years in Mecklenburg County, where the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School System (CMS) has poured so much money into its plethora of failing high poverty schools, that it now has to close ten schools, and for the third year in a row, has to layoff as many as 1500 school employees, which could include 600 teachers.
            Last fall, Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a nonprofit diversity advocacy group, and The Carolinian, traveled to Charlotte to interview educators, parents and school officials about hat problems Wake Public Schools can expect based on the CMS experience. The project was for an online YouTube video titled, “Costs and Consequences: What’s at Stake for Wake.”
            Ms. Knox, the realtor, said that as Wake creates more high poverty schools through its neighborhood schools policy, it can expect to have a dramatic impact on the housing markets surrounding those schools.
            “I have watched and seen how the different school assignments have affected our neighborhood and the neighborhoods in Charlotte,” Knox said.
            As in Wake, many who moved to Charlotte-Mecklenburg bought their homes in particular neighborhoods because of the good reputation of school that serviced their area.
            “Now when I speak with people about an area, school is a factor that is detrimental to the area,” Knox says. People in Charlotte can now go online to the CMS website and research which schools are rated low performing and have high F&R student populations.
            “When parents come to me and have given me the criteria [for a new home], they’ve already looked at test scores of elementary schools, and they tell me they want to be in one area, and do not want to be in another,” said Knox. “Sometimes they’re adamant that they want to be at one particular school. So I must look, and make that the particular criteria that I must search for them.”
            They immediately cross those schools, and those neighborhoods where they considered purchasing a home, off their lists.
Even if it means paying more than they originally planned for a home.
            “”They won’t even consider it, now,” Knox said, making it clear that depending on CMS student assignment policies, neighborhoods can decline, or prices for homes in higher income communities, can “accelerate.”
            The result in many cases, Knox says, has been panic buying, and selling in the neighborhoods. Many of the sellers really didn’t want to move, but because of a CMS student assignment decision affecting their area, felt they had no choice, Knox said.
            Depending on how CMS school boundary lines are drawn, two high schools in the same subdivision can be radically affected, said Knox, causing one to be high poverty, and the other upper-income.
            The result - homes near the high poverty school are much harder to sell than near the upper-income.
            Knox indicated that because of this, some realtors won’t put low-performing schools in the MLS (Multiple Listing System) for fear that it will lower the number of home showings they have in that neighborhood.
            The Carolinian tried to get comment from realtors in Wake County on this issue, but none returned calls by press time.


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