East Wake Middle loses on student attendance because of zoning

mhankerson@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

— The discussion surrounding Knightdale schools has long focused on the migration of students out of the town’s schools. But according to presentations at the first Knightdale Area Education Work Group, it may not be the town’s problem to fix.

Data presented at the work group’s first meeting showed that part of the reason East Wake Middle School may be losing Knightdale students to other schools is the way the county has zoned for elementary and middle schools.

One of the groups at last week’s meeting – which included East Wake Middle Principal Nancy Allen – observed that the school isn’t located in its base attendance zone.

Instead, students from some of the closest elementary schools are sent to Wendell Middle School.

Wake County zoning maps show East Wake Middle is located just outside the border of of its base attendance area. East Wake also draws students who are east of Rolesville Road but still west of Arendell Avenue in Zebulon. The small pocket is also part of Lockhart Elementary’s zone.

In the middle of East Wake’s attendance zone is a small pocket that is assigned to Knightdale Elementary. Those students are assigned to Wendell Middle School.

East Wake Middle School is actually located within the base attendance zone of Forestville Road Elementary, but Forestville students are sent to Wendell Middle School as well.

Wendell Middle’s attendance base is a composite of students from Forestville Road, Knightdale, Carver and Wendell elementary schools. On a map, Carver’s attendance zone backs up to Forestville’s zone area, but Knightdale Elementary’s zone is an island.

If the students enrolled in the two Knightdale elementary schools followed the assignment track set for them, Knightdale would lose 1,426 students to Wendell Middle School when they transition into middle school.

In actuality, East Wake Middle school only loses about 197 students to Wendell Middle School. According to data presented by Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment, 547 students total choose to go to middle schools other than East Wake.

Board Policy 6200

Wake County Public School’s board policy guides student assignment and zoning for schools. The policy is revised periodically to reflect which factors should be prioritized when deciding student assignment, Evans said.

The zoning of Knightdale’s elementary schools was the result of a 2007 reassignment when Wendell Middle opened. At that time, Wake County wanted to match schools’ calendars so elementary school students would move to a middle school with the same calendar.

Forestville Road and Knightdale elementary schools both operate on a traditional calendar. So does Wendell Middle School.

“We were really focused on on the feeder patterns and the elementary schools,” Evans said.

Since then, Evans said, the policy has shifted in favor of proximity. The policy establishes other benchmarks related to student achievement, stability, proximity and operational efficiency to help guide the assignment process.

“At one point we looked at schools in the area to ensure they were similar in regards to their high-needs children and through the years, each of those things have been emphasized more or less depending on the direction of the board,” Evans said.

More than a zoning problem

District 1 representative Tom Benton, whose district includes Knightdale schools, said he’s not sure if student assignment is the best explanation for why Knightdale parents are moving their children somewhere else.

Although the number of students going to other Knightdale schools is a “red flag,” he said he thinks a policy revision will help alleviate some of the problem.

Zoning decisions aren’t enough to account for the number of students leaving Knightdale schools, Benton said.

The data presented at the first work group meeting did not count students not involved in the Wake County school system – homeschooled students, and students at private and charter schools are not included in their data, but Evans estimated another 10 percent of Knightdale children attend those schools. Evans said there really is no way to accurately count these students, though.

Instead, Benton said there may be academic explanations for why Knightdale is losing students, a sentiment echoed by members of his breakout group – including Mayor Russell Killen – at last week’s Knightdale work group meeting.

“I am not ready to say that every student in Knightdale has to go to school in Knightdale because that eliminates magnet choices,” Benton said. “We need to make Knightdale schools attractive enough that parents will choose to keep them there.”


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

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