The National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) will recognize the Wake County Public Schools (NC) at their annual conference in October for its continuing efforts to keep its schools diverse. Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS), now the largest school district in North Carolina, includes North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh and its suburbs. Wake County is unique in that it is one of only a few districts nationally that uses school assignment to ensure a certain level of diversity in its schools. Because of the district’s school assignment policies and magnet programs, many students from more affluent suburban areas attend schools in the heart of the city of Raleigh, and vice versa; many students who live in poorer neighborhoods attend schools in the more affluent suburban parts of the county. As a result, schools in the district have much more socioeconomic and racial diversity than they would have if students only attended schools in their own neighborhoods.

Keung Hui, education writer for the Raleigh News & Observer made the astute observation today that it would be incredibly ironic if days before WCPSS’s superintendent spoke at the CUBE conference, critics of the district’s diversity policy take control of the school board in the Oct. 6th election. The whole situation is ironic, to use Keung’s term, to me. This isn’t the first time that WCPSS has been recognized for its efforts to maintain diversity. For his efforts, Wake’s former Supt. and architect of the district’s student assignment policy Bill McNeal was recognized in 2004 as the North Carolina Superintendent of the Year and the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Someone on the outside might assume (as I did before moving to Raleigh) that Wake County residents are thrilled with the progress that’s been made with maintaining racial and socioeconomic balance in schools. But that is not the case for everyone. There is growing discontentment with Wake’s student assignment policies. A significant number of parents are unhappy that their children are sent across the county to schools for diversity’s sake. These parents argue that they would greatly prefer having their children attend neighborhood schools which are closer to home, making it easier for them to participate fully in school activities.

How will all of this work out? I’m not quite sure. But my hunch is that even if it doesn’t happen with the upcoming school board election, it’s only a matter of time before disenchanted parents gain enough seats on the Wake County School Board to end this policy. In my opinion which appears to also be the opinion of CUBE and the National Association of School Administrators as well, I think the policy has been good for Wake County. As both a researcher and a community member who has lived in places where the neighborhood that you live in dictates the quality of education you receive, I think WCPSS’s goal is praiseworthy. In their heart of hearts, I believe most critics of policy feel the same way. But the question for them becomes one that neither I nor CUBE has to answer, am I willing to inconvenience myself for the sake of what might be the greater good for my community.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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