Merrill dedicates $150,000 to Knightdale area schools

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

East Wake Middle School principal Nancy Allen considers the draft of recommendations about Knightdale schools before they moved on to the county board earlier this month. Superintendent James Merrill included $150,000 in his proposed budget to continue the work.

MECHELLE HANKERSON — mhankerson@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Wake County Superintendent James Merrill announced last week that $150,000 of his proposed $1.8 billion budget would be dedicated for the continuing efforts of the Knightdale Area Work Group.

The $150,000 will pay for planning at the school level and professonal development to begin identifying what to do in each school.

“We took time to work with the Knightdale Area Work Group (and now) I want to take that time and work with the schools and look at school improvement planning,” said Eastern Area Superintendent Ed McFarland, who led the work group.

The budget proposal said the $150,000 is meant to address planning and professional development right now by paying for substitute teachers as needed during workshops for teachers and will pay for planning supplies for individual schools.

McFarland said there are no specific workshops or supplies picked out because it will likely change from school to school.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is just throw money and give it to all the schools,” he said. “We just want to make sure we do it right.”

Planning money will go to principals to “spend time with an identified team in the summer in order to focus heavily on school improvement and a professional development plan,” the budget proposal says.

Professional development money, which makes up the majority of the proposal in the form of $105,000 in workshop expenses, will be used “for identifying, nurturing and building upon talent in all students in the classroom,” an issue mentioned when the Knightdale Work Group discussed Academically or Intellectually Gifted students.

The fact that money is in the budget to study problems in Knighdale is a step forward for advocates who have long complained about inadequacies in Knightdale schools.

But not everyone thinks the way the money is going to be spent is wise. County commissioner and Knightdale resident Joe Bryan wasn’t happy about the plan.

“They’ve known about the situation in eastern Wake for a decade and they’ve done nothing. Now they’re going to study it? That doesn’t raise student achievement,” he said.

Other programs will help

Some steps have already been taken to address some of the schools’ needs, like the proposed Spanish immersion program at Hodge Road that aims to help non-English speaking students.

But for the most part, McFarland said, change will come slowly.

“This is a long- term approach,” he said. “If you’re looking for a 6-month fix, this is not it. We are looking to make changes that are cultural changes.”

The Knightdale Area Support in Merrill’s budget didn’t directly address the majority of what the work group identified as challenges, but Knightdale schools were not forgotten in other parts of the budget.

Merrill’s proposed budget includes money for a high school literacy teacher for 9th- and 10th-graders, a part-time intervention coordinator for the high school level to improve the graduation rate, literacy coaches for grades K-2 and more AIG instructors for schools with low numbers of identified students.

“Literacy is a need regardless of whether the Knightdale group specified that ... we know thats a need for the kids,” McFarland said.

Typically, small regions of schools do not get money set aside specifically for their area, but rather a budget can fund programs that benefit them.

Merrill’s budget notes there is no funding formula that targets specific schools in a small region of the county.

The Knightdale Area Support money comes after about six months of planning from the Knightdale Area Work Group.

The group of about 30 community members, school officials and county officials formed in response to an independent audit from last August that showed Knightdale schools were under-performing and lacking resources.

In its work, the group identified four categories most of the schools’ challenges seemed to fall under: student assignment, student achievement, AIG programs and magnet and curriculum enhancement programs.

Merrill’s proposed budget also doesn’t include any money for more curriculum enhancement or magnet creation at Knightdale schools.

The spending plan will be discussed and revised by the school board before being sent to county commissioners for their consideration.

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

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