Most in the room were silent as Superintendent Tony Tata rolled out the newest draft of his student assignment proposal in a board work session Tuesday.
Since Tata took office in January, the divided board suppressed its fierce debate about student assignment and gave Tata time to develop a plan both sides could agree on.
Tata’s time is fast approaching.
His updated proposal came in the form of a 25-slide PowerPoint presentation and as diversity advocate Patty Williams said, “It is a lot to digest.”
Tata and his assignment team researched 22 school districts in formulating the plan. He said they picked “what options worked best here, while trying to blend the legacy and history of this school district as well as forge a new path that will allow for growth.”
The plan keeps magnet schools, but splits them into three groups. The groups vary by the percentage of “magnet” seats and “proximity” seats assigned to each magnet school.
- Group 1 – 55 to 60 percent magnet, 40 to 45 percent proximity
- Group 2 – 40 to 45 percent magnet, 55 to 60 percent proximity
- Group 3 – 10 to 20 percent magnet, 80 to 90 percent proximity
Group 1, the largest of all the groups, is designed to prevent high poverty schools. Most of those schools are in Southeast Raleigh.
One of the more controversial pieces to Tata’s assignment puzzle is “achievement” schools. The purpose of the achievement schools will be to take in low-performing students who can’t get in to magnet schools because of a high number of applications.
The plan breaks the county into four similarly-sized “achievement zones” in the North, South, East and West of the county.
Each zone will have multiple achievement schools.
Staff used two criteria to define achievement schools. The first is a formula which holds the percentage of “high-performing” teachers in the school as the highest priority. It also weighs student performance and overall school performance, as well as graduation rate in high schools.
The second criteria set a minimum standard for a school to be regarded as an achievement school. If 70 percent of a school’s students do not perform proficiently and the school is not in the upper 50 percent of schools district-wide in terms of reaching growth targets in testing, the school is automatically taken off the list of achievement schools.
Board Chair Ron Margiotta said he does think this is the foundation for a plan the board can agree on.
“What’s going to complicate this thing is getting the capacity right in all these different schools,” he said.
Tata and his team said that if everybody in an achievement zone chose their achievement school, those schools would be packed tight.
But, he said, “We’re quite confident based on the patterns in the test drive that there will be enough capacity in the achievement schools.”
One finding from the test drive was that parents who took the survey overwhelmingly chose proximity schools versus achievement schools.
For the purposes of the survey, 21,283 people participated and 1,175 of the district’s 1,329 nodes were represented. Dr. Anne McLaurin asked for a break down in the demographics of who participated and across which parts of the county they were scattered. Staff members said they would make that data available.
Superintendent Tata said the heaviest participation was in the Western part of the county, but that participation “was not as uneven as you might have thought.”
The test drive found that proximity and calendar choice were the main drivers in a family’s decision. Tata’s team found that achievement schools did not play a statistically significant role in choosing.
“There has to be some shared sacrifice by all in the community,” said board member Keith Sutton, who is up for re-election this year. “Some of us had to give up on the proximity piece and some of us had to give up on the diversity piece. We all have to give up something to achieve a consensus.”
But the silence in Tuesday’s meeting was just as much the by-product of digesting such a massive and original plan, as it was consensus. As the details emerge, consensus could likely get harder to come by.
Tata has set the bar high.
“It’s an original plan,” he said. “We’re trying to be the national standard.”