Knightdale school recommendations will begin at home

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 7, 2014 

— Recommendations created by the Knightdale Area Education Work Group went through one more group of discerning eyes last week.

Eastern Area Superintendent Ed McFarland presented the recommendations to the Wake County school board last Tuesday, but as he explained to board members, that was all that's going to be happening immediately.

"Today's purpose is to share the work, not necessarily (discuss) the next steps," McFarland told the board.

A work group of educators and community representatives created recommendations for the community and the school system and according to district representative and board vice-chair Tom Benton, most of the immediate changes will be those suggested to the community and Knightdale educators.

"You have to take time to do things right ... but there is a sense of urgency," Benton said to the board. “We could lose a lot of our (students) and not get them back.”

He said he isn't positive what changes Knightdale will see immediately, but he said he hopes to see more opportunities for teacher training and the creation of parent workshops, where parents can get more information about school events and procedures implemented by the next school year.

The group suggested new programming in the schools, like magnet or curriculum enhancement programs, but Benton said it was too late in the year to develop that in time for the next academic year.

“We’re needing programs that are bold and innovative ... affordable and sustainable,” he said.

Knightdale Area Education Work Group recommendations by mechelleh

Resource allocation

The group’s reccommendations for the county largely revolved around finding a new way to allocate financial resources based on student need, not the number of students in a school.

Board members didn’t voice opposition to the recommendation but some, like Keith Sutton, wanted to know how that could be done.

He asked if there was a way for the board to do a ‘needs assessment’ of a school. Deputy Superintendent for School Performance Cathy Moore said the county would have to look at multiple factors to create a portrait of a school.

She said it would be important to consider the makeup of the student population and what kinds of resources are already available to the school.

But until then, Wake County Superintendent James Merrill said the board will have to sit tight.

“It’s on us first,” he told the board. “We need to bring you a strong hand to chew on.”

Retaining teachers

In addition to resources, the board discussed the recommendations that want to find ways to train and retain teachers in Knightdale schools.

Sutton asked the board how they could place highly trained teachers in schools that need them, but board chairwoman Christine Kushner suggested offering teachers “intense professional development” rather than moving them and offering incentives for that move, an idea presented by Sutton.

Board member Jim Martin, who represents south central Raleigh and parts of Cary, agreed with Kushner.

“(We should be) working to improve teachers that are there,” he said. “People driven by incentives aren’t necessarily the people you want there. ... (They) may not respond, but the people (already) there may be more responsive.”

In its meeting, the Knightdale work group discussed the staffing of Academically and Intellectually Gifted programs in the local schools. Student assignment and achievement data presented to the group in November suggested higher performing students were moving out of Knightdale schools, a finding that put an emphasis on restoring more challenging programming for the group.

The issue was just as pressing for the county school board.

Martin suggested, if the budget would allow, to have a full-time AIG instructor in every school. The work group and the board had similar conversations about changing AIG requirements or changing how AIG instructors are assigned to schools. Right now, AIG instructors can split their time between schools depending on how many students are identified to be academically gifted.

Martin said he didn’t think that would be necessary.

“Experimenting with new ideas is valid and viable ... but we know how to solve (these problems), we just need to do it,” he said.

The board didn’t take any action on the recommendations, but McFarland said Merrill had included some money in his budget for continued planning and work in the Knightdale schools.

Merill was scheduled to present his budget at the same meeting, but it was pushed back to allow more time for discussion of state legislation that would eliminate teacher tenure.

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

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