Few respond to chance to air Wake school issues

jwhitfield@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2014 

— What was billed as a direct line to the Wake County schools superintendent was more like an unanswered call Thursday night.

Only a handful of Wake school staffers attended a session for school employees to let Superintendent James Merrill know what was on their mind. And, later that evening, just one member of the public turned out to speak to the superintendent.

The session was the first of five meetings scheduled across Wake County for Merrill to hear people’s concerns about the school system or education issues important to them.

At East Wake High School on Thursday, Wake N.C. Association of Educators President Larry Nilles, who is an East Wake High School graduate, told Merrill he thinks school employees would benefit from long-term leadership and planning.

“As you well know, we’ve had six superintendents in the last three and a half years,” Nilles said. “That’s been bad for us mostly because we haven’t had any vision. What I hope is that we’ll have some time to look together to set long term goals for ourselves and our students that we can measure against,” Nilles said.

Other teachers who spoke asked Merrill to set reasonable expectations for students with disabilities. Another expressed concern over the aging technology in the school, asking Merrill to start planning for the cost of replacing that equipment.

Later, when parents and the general public were given their turn to speak, only Brian Mountcastle of Raleigh braved the evening cold. He thanked Merrill for bringing his tour to eastern Wake County, and he asked him to overlook the light turnout.

“This is the first time in 11 years … that anyone has come out here and asked us what we thought. Even though you do not see a big parent turnout, it’s not that we are not interested. We ask that you keep coming back. We just need to work long term,” Mountcastle said.

Merrill said later that he wasn’t concerned about the low turnout:

“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this. I think we did a good job publicizing it, but we’ll go back and look at what we can do to get the word out more.”

The next meeting is scheduled at Broughton High School on Monday. Other sessions will be held at Panther Creek, Southeast Raleigh and Wakefield high schools.

Whitfield: 919-829-4823; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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