The Canary in the Coal Mine: Overcrowded and low-performing Walnut Creek Elementary shows the future of Wake County’s neighborhood schools approach

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In the 2011-2012 school year, the brand-new Walnut Creek Elementary school in Southeast Raleigh became both the first test of the Wake County School Board’s neighborhood schools assignment plan and an example of the racially discriminatory effect of the model.

Given a blank slate, the Wake County School Board’s conservative majority opened Walnut Creek as a racially segregated, high poverty, crowded school – troubling demographics that were not only easily avoidable today, but also would have been unacceptable under the previous socioeconomic diversity plan. By assigning eleven nodes of 85% - 90% Black and Hispanic students away from more diverse schools to Walnut Creek, the school was predicted to open with 99% racially minority students and 81% FRL eligible students. In addition, 52.8% of students were classified as academic low performers, 12.7% as Limited English Proficient, and 16.7% receiving special education services under an Individualized Education Plan.

While Wake County usually opens new schools at only 80% capacity, Walnut Creek opened at nearly 95% of its capacity of 780 students. It now has 929 students. The overcrowding has now reached such an extent that the school board put a cap on enrollment at the school last week. (See also: T. Keung Hui, Wake to recommend capping Walnut Creek Elementary, News and Observer, Nov. 18, 2011)

Mark Dorosin commented on Walnut Creeks’ continued overcrowding and low-performance problems on Cash Michael’s “Make it Happen” radio show, Nov. 17, 2011.

Dorosin explained that the Center for Civil Rights, the NAACP, and NC HEATraised these concerns and predicted these outcomes in their September 2010 Title VI complaint with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and in January and March 2011 updates.

When given the chance to prove itself, Dorosin explained on “Make it Happen,” the Board and its neighborhood schools plan pushed student assignments and transfers that segregate students. “We saw it over and over again – the movement of racially homogenous groups of students from more diverse schools to less diverse schools. And we saw the creation of a brand new school, [Walnut Creek], where the school board had a blank slate, a tabula rasa, [and they] created a brand new school that was a racially isolated, high poverty, low performing school. [W]hen confronted with that, the board assured the community that additional resources would be put into that school to accommodate for whatever needs would be presented there.”

Dorosin pointed out the intentionality behind the Board’s decisions that created Walnut Creek as a school created to fail: “The school board wasn’t even disputing that they were deliberately creating racially isolated, high poverty school. What they were assuring the community is that the harm that would be created by this decision to establish this school, with the demographic profile it has - they would compensate for that. And what we know is that that is an untenable model. In a sense, the school board was telling the community was ‘separate but equal.’ What we got is separate, and grossly unequal.”

Though the recent election has returned the Board to a Democratic majority, there is no guarantee that the district will return to a diversity-conscious model that focuses on providing equal and high-quality academic opportunities and resources to all students in Wake County. The new Board members say that they will review the student assignment plan, but the County continues to follow through on the student assignment plan in advance of the 2012-2013 year as it holds “Parent Info Sessions” across the county.

Dorosin concluded the interview by reiterating that the problems resulting from the overcrowding and concentrating low-performing students at Walnut Creek were predictable and avoidable. “The complainants [in the Title IV case] were saying that this would happen, and we now see that it has in fact borne out. The worst case scenario we envisioned has come to fruition.”

Dorosin advocated for continued community advocacy for a return to a plan that takes diversity into account: “Parents should be continuing to advocate in front of the school board as they begin to look at this new assignment model. Walnut Creek is the canary in the coal mine. This is what the future looks like under a plan that doesn’t take into account important factors related to diversity, including race, socioeconomic status, student proficiency– and not just takes them into account, but makes them priorities – top priorities in determining where kids go to school.”

More news reports on the history and continuing challenges at Walnut Creek:

Posted by Taiyyaba A. Qureshi on Tue. November 29, 2011 3:00 PM
Categories: Education, Segregation, Wake County
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