Task force begins work for Knightdale schools

mhankerson@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

MECHELLE HANKERSON — mhankerson@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The special work group created to help address problems in Knightdale area schools met for the first time last week to present data on student assignment and achievement in hopes of identifying the biggest problems facing the town’s six schools.

The Knightdale Area Education Work Group was a long time coming, according to some Knightdale education activists, but an audit released in August prompted action.

District 1 school board representative Tom Benton said the audit confirmed what parents and Knightdale education advocates have already identified as problems in the six schools within the town’s borders.

The audit evaluated Knightdale and Hodge Road elementary schools, East Wake Middle School and Knightdale High School. They found issues with resources, retaining and training new teachers and handling non-academic issues, like discipline.

At East Wake Middle School the audit reported that the school ran out of food for students, a problem that has since been fixed when the school hired a permanent cafeteria manager.

At its first meeting, the task force did not directly address any issue mentioned in the audit, but focused on issues that have surrounded Knightdale schools for some time.

Moving up and moving out

Student assignment data presented by Laura Evans, Wake County Public Schools senior director of student assignment, showed that as students progress, they tend to move out of Knightdale schools.

Evans said most children who attend a school outside of their base zone usually do so for calendar reasons, at least at the elementary level.

In Knightdale, of the 1,302 elementary students who go to a school that isn’t their base school, 513 stay within the town. Of those, 209 students opt to attend Knightdale Elementary School, which offers a traditional school calendar.

The next largest number of students, 144, go to Lockhart Elementary, which is a single-track year-round school.

Daniel Zoller, the principal of Lockhart Elementary, told his small working group his own children don’t go to their base schools, but rather to a school that makes it convenient for his wife to get them to and from school on the way to work.

“The choice is a positive,” Zoller said.

The assignment among elementary schools is in line with the rest of the county, Benton said in his small working group.

“It’s not quite as bad as I thought it was,” he said.

At the middle school level, 547 students chose to attend a school other than East Wake Middle. Of those, 197 are attending Wendell Middle School, which offers a traditional school calendar. East Wake Middle is a also a single-track, year-round school.

In high school, 893 Knightdale-area students are attending schools outside of their base. The audit showed 175 students choose to go to Enloe High School, which offers a gifted and talented program as well as an International Baccaluareate (IB) program. Another 172 students choose Millbrook High School, which also has an IB program.

Evans told the task force only one other high school in the county has more students choosing to go to school outside of their base.

Magnet school question

At the first meeting, the task force was not charged with figuring out why students were moving, but groups hypothesized anyway.

Tim Simmons, vice president of communications at the Wake Education Partnership, told his group he thinks the availibility of magnet programs at other schools might help explain why students are moving out of Knightdale schools.

He has two children who attend special arts programs. He told his group that if those programs were offered in Knightdale, he might consider sending his children to Knightdale schools.

Simmons also told his group he was concerned schools are neglecting advanced and gifted students.

Student achievement data presented by Wake County Public Schools Senior Director of Data and Accountability Brad McMillen, showed that even though Knightdale schools did better than average instructing historically lower achieving groups (low-income students and students with disabilities), advanced and gifted students were stagnating.

Students who are not considered economically disadvantaged or gifted tended to fall below average across the board in Knightdale.

“It’s kind of hard to find that happy medium so everyone gets what they need,” said Rolanda Keith, a parent of an East Wake Middle student who is also part of the task force.

Long time coming

The audit wasn’t the first indicator that schools in eastern Wake County, specifically in Knightdale, needed help to catch up with other schools in the state.

School report cards issued by the state show all the schools in Knightdale except Lockhart and Forestville Road elementary schools fell below the state average in end-of-grade tests.

District-wide, that pattern also held true, but Lockhart and Forestville Road also fell slightly below the district average in reading scores.

The task force will meet five more times before making recommendations to the Wake school board. Each meeting’s agenda will be determined by the previous meeting’s discussion.

“(We need to figure out) using that data, where to put our hearts,” Keith said.

The work group will meet again Nov. 12.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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