Wake school wars: Alves will return, and Goldman is listening (i.e., some good news) | Citizen

Wake school wars: Alves will return, and Goldman is listening (i.e., some good news)

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The take-home from this morning's press conference on Wake school issues: First, the business community — the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership — is bringing Michael Alves back into the process of creating a new student assignment plan for the schools; and second, Wake school board vice chair Debra Goldman attended, welcomed Alves' return and used the word "compromise" in discussing what she hopes Alves will help to accomplish.

Both are good news.

[Update: By popular demand, I will attempt to answer briefly the question: What did Goldman say?

She said: She's "thrilled" the Chamber and WEP are bringing Alves back. Student assignment issues are complicated, and it's "vitally important" that student achievement be added to the mix of factors the board will use to draw assignment zones. She doesn't think the board majority will ever again adopt a "number" for diversity — e.g., the old goal of no more than 40 percent of students in any school eligible for the F&R (free and reduced) lunch program — but she'll be pleased if Alves can find a way to "encompass" diversity while also fulfilling the board majority's goals of proximity, choice and stability.

She supports the work of the Student Assignment Committee, she said, but just as she's been saying about hiring a new superintendent, it's never wrong to hire "a professional to do a professional job." (John Tedesco can make of that what he will.)

Goldman said she talked with Alves at length when he was here, and while she didn't agree with everything he said, she liked what she heard overall. "I believe that bringing some different views will help come up with a compromise," she said. At another point, she seemed to agree with Alves that the fewer zones, the better: "I believe that the less we divide up the county, the better off we will be," she said.

"I want to be very clear," Goldman said. "I do not support creating more high-poverty schools. I do not support segregation of any shape or form. I do not support crowded classrooms of students who are not getting the support they deserve."

Goldman emphasized that she was speaking only for herself, not the board majority. She raised one big question about the scheme that Tedesco's committee seemed to like, which has no base schools for anyone, only a "menu" idea under which parents would list the schools they want and get one of them — probably.

"When I look at this, quite frankly, from a birds-eye view, I wonder," Goldman said, "why do we need to completely reinvent the [student assignment] plan? Why can't we stick with what's good, make it better, make those improvements [meaning more stability] and solve some problems and issues and get back to focusing on student achievement ...?

"If I had my dream come true for this plan, every child would have a base assignment, a true calendar option, opportunities to apply to a magnet system as it exists or as closely as possible to the way it exists now, and perhaps we look more closely at a transfer policy" — allowing easier transfers to schools with empty seats.]

***

Alves, you'll recall, is the guru of "controlled choice" plans who visited in July, courtesy of the Chamber and WEP. He told us that assignment zones of the kind sought by the new Wake school board majority could be drawn up to achieve greater stability in student assignments without necessarily resulting in "have" and "have-not" zones — but not unless the board majority pays close attention to the critical issues of fairness, balance and diversity across zones.

Board Chair Ron Margiotta quicky dismissed Alves' point, saying the majority would focus on its desire for neighborhood schools and just trust that the outcome will be fair — it'll be fair to his suburban constituents, anyway, is what he might as well have said. And shortly, John Tedesco, who chairs the student assignment committee, rolled out a scheme — it doesn't rise to the level of an actual plan — that appeared on its face to be anything but fair.

But Tedesco called for community input, and the Chamber and WEP are seizing on that opening by paying Alves to draft a controlled-choice plan for Wake over the next 6-8 weeks. Alves is being asked to base his plan on proximity, choice and stability — the school board majority's big-three values — and one more: student achievement.

There's a strong body of opinion, of course, that says diversity in assignments across zones is crucial to achievement for all students — and Goldman was emphatic that she wants to be fair to A-L-L (she spellled it out) students. Alves made it clear when he visited that he shares that view about diversity.

Goldman was the only school board member to attend today's press conference. She said she'll welcome Alves' input, which — not to belabor or overstate the obvious — could force Margiotta and the rest of the Majority Five (Tedesco, Chris Malone, Deborah Prickett) to pay attention. Because without Goldman, they aren't the majority on the deeply divided, 5-4 school board.

Goldman fielded questions afterward and had a good deal to say. I want to listen to her comments again before going on with this so, so — more later; or (since I have other obligations) it may be tomorrow. But for now, I'll say there was a ray of sunshine for diversity supporters who are thrilled to see Alves back in the fray.

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