05/12/09 — School transfer policy subject of final Kitchen Table discussion

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School transfer policy subject of final Kitchen Table discussion

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 12, 2009 1:46 PM

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Community members and parents weigh in on the public school's transfer policy Monday night at a "Kitchen Table Conversation" with Wayne County Public Schools. In the foreground from left are Gene Jackson of the school system, parent Alberta Hayes, County Commissioner Jack Best and City Council member Bob Waller.

The transfer policy in Wayne County Public Schools is probably as fair as it can be, although it could always be updated, several people said at Monday night's fourth -- and final for the year -- Kitchen Table Conversation.

The event designed to elicit input from the community on policies and procedures in the district was sparsely attended, with fewer than three dozen in the spacious fellowship hall at Best Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

But there was much to be gained from those who attended, said Patsy Faison, principal of Tommy's Road Elementary School and moderator at each of the conversations. School board member Thelma Smith, a proponent of the gathering since witnessing its success in Durham City Schools earlier in the year, agreed.

"This conversation, you don't know how powerful what you said has been," Mrs. Smith said. "There's room for a lot of improvements. It's not going to fall on deaf ears. We are going to take these suggestions."

Allison Pridgen, director of student support services for the district, started with an overview of the current student transfer and reassignment policies.

Primarily, she said, the policy is dictated by the attendance area where students and parents reside. Beyond that, it's about capacity -- developing programs and determining where there is space available to make transfers. At the end of May, she noted, the district will advertise which schools can accommodate more students in the fall.

"We actually do not have a lot of transfers, because most of our schools are at capacity," she said. "A lot of transfers made throughout the year are because of No Child Left Behind, mandates allowing students to transfer from a school that has not made its adequate yearly progress."

Other requests cover a variety of reasons, Mrs. Pridgen said -- special needs or exceptional students, accommodating the nearly 2,500 employees in the school system with children of their own.

But the largest amount of transfers handled by the district are for families that have moved during the school year, she said.

"They will request a transfer so that their children can remain in the school district where they originally attended until the end of the school year," she said. In such cases, they are often approved, with the stipulation that parents provide their own transportation.

While not a large number, there are also students transferring in from other counties because parents work or teach in Wayne County, she said. And a few who also transfer out of the county for the same reason.

"We try to work with parents the best we can," Mrs. Pridgen said, noting, "It's important to understand that Wayne County is not the only school system that has a transfer policy -- every school system in the state has a transfer or reassignment policy. It's just part of our business, part of our everyday business."

School officials appreciate input from the community, she added.

"Certainly no policy is perfect," she said. "We seek to improve it so that it meets the needs of our community."

At facilitator Kim Copeland's table, parents were positive about the existing transfer policy.

"It seems to be fair and consistent, so that they're not showing partiality," said parent Cindy Weeks.

"I think we have a very lenient policy to encompass everyone's needs," agreed Kathye Batts.

Ms. Copeland, literacy lead teacher for the school system, said, "I think we have a very liberal policy in Wayne County. They do everything they can to meet the needs of the students and the parents in a fair and consistent way. I felt that way as a parent and as an educator."

Gene Jackson had a diverse group -- a parent, a county commissioner, a city council member and one of the authors behind the transfer policy. As he took notes of their comments, Jackson, instructional technology specialist with the schools, said, "The policy basically works."

"But it needs a facelift," Ms. Hayes said. "It may not work 10 to 15 years down the line. Basically, I would agree that the transfer policy works but the public needs a better understanding of it."

"Parents wrote the policy," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability. He recalled the series of meetings over several months when it was reviewed and adjusted several times before being approved more than a decade ago.

Commissioner Jack Best floated the idea of redrawing district lines.

"Then I might agree to that," chimed in City Councilman Bob Waller. "I have been saying that a long time."

Best's suggestion went beyond shifting boundaries.

"Determine where you would like the schools in the county and then draw the lines around them," he said. "Then you could draw a 20- to 30-year plan where the population would generate around the school. ... What we need to do is probably not only look at the transfer policy but where the school is and where they want the student to go."

It all boils down to three questions, Best said -- "How many kids you want in a school, where do you want the schools and what are your priorities?"

Even if that means building new schools over the next 15 years, he added.

"If you're planning to build a new school every two years, if you spread it over 15 years, you'll get there," he said. "It boils down to people asking the right questions. It doesn't have anything to do with money. People in this county will come to the table for education if they have the right questions."

Other groups also shared their recommendations for the transfer policy.

"We feel that the school system should continue to seek additional avenues for more information for all stakeholders," Ms. Copeland said.

"We think the open transfer policy should be looked at," said parent Darren Goroski. "There are definitely legitimate reasons to transfer ... There's got to be some restructuring of the district lines and adherence to policies."

Representing his table, Dr. Ralph Smith, lead teacher for science and performing arts, said the group was split on the best solution.

"But overall, policy should be more accommodating to the modern family -- parents are in one district and the caregivers before and after school are somewhere else," he said.

Suggestions and ideas were to be collected and posted on the school district Web site, with a copy also to be made available to the public at the central schools office, said Olivia Pierce, executive director for community relations.

"Even though the audience in some ways has been small, it's been valuable," she said. "It's something that we can take back and share and use."