by Bob Geary
Looking ahead to Tuesday and the mass march/rally at the State Capitol in favor of diversity in the Wake school system:
It's mid-July. The new school board majority has been in office for almost eight months, and a referendum on their actions to date is coming in November with elections for the Wake County Board of Commissioners. The (Republican) majority has thus far managed to scrap diversity as a policy goal, change a few school calendars and move some students around, notably the ones from Southeast Raleigh who were attending school in Garner but won't be henceforth. They won a recent showdown with Democratic Commissioner Stan Norwalk over where to put a new high school in the northeast quadrant of the county: Norwalk wanted it close to the hugely over-crowded Wakefield H.S.; the school board majority wanted it in Rolesville, i.e. not that close. The majority got their way on a 4-3 vote of the commissioners, with Democrat Lindy Brown deserting her party to side with the three Republican commissioners.
But the school board majority has made little (some might argue no) progress toward adopting a new student assignment policy and no progress on the issue of ED (economically disadvantaged) students and their lagging academic performance. The ED issue was a hobbyhorse whipped relentlessly by the majority (or, more accurately, by John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett, purportedly speaking for the majority) before and after their election wins last fall. Since then, it hasn't seemed to occupy much of the majority's time, however. Do they still contend that "neighborhood schools" will help kids living in high-poverty neighborhoods? Or was it always a fig leaf to cover their real agenda, which is neighborhood schools for their own suburban neighborhoods?
On the other side, the NAACP, the Great Schools in Wake coalition and a slew of other groups have come fiercely to the defense of diversity as a critical element in school excellence overall, but especially in any effort to help ED students and close the achievement gap between more- and less-affluent kids.
To Tedesco's stance that diversity didn't work because graduation rates for ED kids slipped over the past decade, diversity's supporters answered that he's got it exactly backwards: Rather, they say, as adherence to the county's diversity policy slipped over the past decade — the victim of Wake's unbridled growth — so too did the performance of ED kids. To put it another way, as the number of schools with high concentrations of ED kids grew from fewer than 10 to more than 50, the number of ED kids not graduating increased apace. High-poverty schools, usually also characterized by high-minority populations, yield terrible results for the kids forced to attend them, they believe.
Bottom line: Eight months in, the effort by the new board majority to seize the moral high ground by appearing, at least, to advocate for ED kids is fading.
Now, diversity's supporters have the high ground, and they'll try to hold it through November, starting with Tuesday's march. Organizers are talking about "thousands" turning out, a big word for an event on a steamy mid-July day. But the AME Zion convention is in town — that'll help.
A big turnout for the march could be the launch point for the fall campaign, but also for the more important campaign to raise ED achievement scores in Wake and fulfill the promise of socio-economic diversity AND school excellence.
The march is set to begin at 10 a.m. from the Raleigh Convention Center. Here's a promotional video posted by the NC NAACP: