Sunday, April 15, 2012


By Cash Michaels

                                                       KEITH SUTTON

            The vice chairman of the Wake County Board of Education says “there will be an effort by this board…” to revisit Policy 6200, the long held school board policy that established socioeconomic student diversity as an important tool in the school system, before the previous conservative-led Wake school board gutted it in favor of neighborhood schools.

            Vice Chair Keith Sutton, the board’s only African-American, who also represents predominately black District 4, made his remarks Monday evening during a community engagement meeting at Martin Street Baptist Church, sponsored by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children.

            The two-hour session allowed parents and community leaders to ask questions of Sutton about the direction of Wake County schools, and express their concerns about the new student assignment plan, school discipline policies, and other matters.

            It was in answering a question from a Carnage GT Magnet Middle School parent, concerned about the changing student demographics there with the new student assignment plan, that Sutton addressed the former diversity policy.

            “Long-term, there will be an effort by this board to go back and look at Policy 6200…,” Sutton told approximately 35 people in attendance, adding, “…and see how we can address not just issues of diversity, but looking at how we can balance and strengthen the policy by looking at specific targets with regard to not only the magnet populations, but also racial compositions and student achievement as well, and see how we  can balance that.”

            “I firmly believe that there is a way, and if it can be done it would be in Wake County, where we can look at stability - which is important to a lot of families - proximity, and student achievement/diversity as well,” Sutton continued.

            “If it can be done, it can be done here in Wake County. Over the next few weeks, and into the future, we’ll be taking a look at that…to begin looking at how we can do that.”

            There is no question that if the Democrat-majority Wake School Board were to revisit changing Policy 6200 again so that it once again reflected diversity as an equal standard with stability, proximity and academic achievement, that the Republican-minority, led by former board Vice Chair Debra Goldman, would howl.

            It was 2009, after almost a decade of socio-economic student diversity in Wake Public Schools, that a Republican-majority took over the school board with a mandate to end the policy that many experts said was a key to Wake’s academic success.

            Led by Chairman Ron Margiotta, the conservative board removed diversity from Policy 6200, saying that parents wanted proximity and stability, and blamed the diversity policy for not having it.

            In fact, it was the county’s explosive growth - as a result of the diversity policy which saw inner city children attending suburban schools, and suburban kids being bused to inner city magnet schools - that forced constant assignment changes, and the implementation of year-round schools.

            In Feb. 2010, then Wake Supt. Del Burns, resolute that he could not be a part of the board’s plan to implement what many believed to be a racially biased neighborhood schools plan, resigned. It would not be until current Wake Supt. Anthony Tata took over in Jan 2011, and later led the effort for the board to adopt a controversial school choice plan, was there any clarity on student assignment.

            But now that many parents are realizing that, despite assurances to the contrary, they are not getting their first choice of schools for their children, in addition to growing concerns that many of the under-chosen schools will become predominately black and Hispanic high poverty schools, there are mounting questions about the wisdom of Tata’s school choice construct.

            The toughest of those questions have come from local realtors, who say the plan doesn’t allow them to sell homes near schools with certainty, and on Wednesday from Wake County mayors, some of whom complained that businesses are having second thoughts about moving to area because of the lack of clarity in Supt. Tata’s plan.

            “With us trying to recruit businesses to come here, we are trying to compete with municipalities all around the globe,” said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane. “The big thing is, ‘Where are my kids going to go to school?’ And there’s no answer. That’s a deal breaker.”
An apparently stunned Tata took McFarlane’s comments to heart, vowing to make necessary changes, including increasing capacity at various schools, to at least address the negative perceptions.
The controversy only feeds criticism from Supt. Tata’s primary adversary, Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a liberal nonprofit group that has been critical of Tata’s plan from Day One.
The group, which pleaded with the new Democrat-led Wake School Board to jettison Tata’s plan and use the next year to craft a better one, to no avail, unveiled their new “Let’s find a better way” campaign this week.
“[We] believe that it is time to pause, reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of the new plan and its predecessor, and develop an alternative that combines the best of all assignment methodologies while considering what our community values in public education,” said GSIWC Chairwoman Yevonne Brannon.  “The choice student assignment plan is taking a toll on our community.”


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