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I just got the call a few minutes ago from the Human Resources Department at Wake County Public School System: my central-services position was just officially approved to be affected by a massive reduction in force.  My last day was today; I report to HR tomorrow for information on the severance process.

But that hasn't been the worst news to come out of the board meeting. The worst was the Wake County Public School System -- which has spent more than 30 years working hard to ensure equal access to quality education for all students, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, and ability level -- will be dismantling its desegregation policy in favor of a "community-based" assignment policy, which will effectively resegregate the system and its 144,000 students.

Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) is the 18th largest school district in the United States.  Back in 1977, the Raleigh School System and the Wake County School System consolidated in order to avoid the consequences of "white flight" from the inside-the-Beltline area of Raleigh to the outlying suburbs.  Schools inside the Beltline, which were increasingly minority-group isolated, were populated way under capacity. And schools in wealthy growing suburban areas were over capacity, with long waiting lists.  

The disparities in the resources available to the inner-city schools and suburban schools were discouraging.  Teachers in inner-city schools often chose to live in the suburbs so that their children could attend the better-resourced suburban schools.  It became increasingly difficult for inner-city schools to attract and retain quality personnel over the years.

So in 1977, the two systems consolidated. It was not an easy decision.  Some very strong community leaders fought prejudices -- even threats -- in standing by the decision to merge the school systems so that all children throughout Wake County could have equal access to quality education.

Magnet schools were established throughout the county to help achieve socioeconomic and racial diversity, ensure that no school had a high percentage of high-poverty students, and to ensure that schools were balanced in terms of students needing academic assistance or remediation. Eventually, fully one-third of the district's schools became magnet schools so that students and families could choose education with research-supported academic themes to improve achievement in particular areas, such as the arts, sciences, engineering, health sciences, communications, etc.  A child in any part of Wake County could apply for enrollment in any magnet school they chose, regardless of where his or her family lived.

WCPSS magnet schools are among the top in the nation.  Staff assiduously mined research-based curricular themes that were robust, meaningful, and data driven to improve student achievement, attendance, retention, and success in postsecondary education and/or employment. Personnel from schools all over the world visited our magnet schools to take the ideas from WCPSS and replicate them in their own districts.

And as the magnet schools flourished, the entire district flourished. Best practices that were piloted in magnet schools were seeded throughout the district's other schools.

Where 30 years ago, minority students and students in impoverished neighborhoods were marginalized and used hand-me-down textbooks and materials, today's students at WCPSS all have access to the same programs, resources, and high-quality teaching staffs.  Teachers are proud to have their own children attending their schools, no matter how wealthy or how poor the neighborhood where the school is located. Teacher turnover rates and burnout rates are low, and WCPSS was #1 in the nation for National Board Certifed teachers.  Administrators likewise stay in the system long enough to be top in their profession.  School populations more closely mirrored the demographics of the county overall rather than the neighborhoods where the schools were located.  Students learned in diverse schools and benefited from that diversity.

But it's a new day at Wake County Public Schools.  No longer will people who live in the suburbs but work in downtown Raleigh be able to have their children attend those schools closest to their offices.  No longer will students who live in high-poverty neighborhoods be able to attend the health-sciences magnet school on the eastern edge of the county.

All those long decades of struggle to achieve equal access are gone now. The Wake County School Board of Education has dismantled the district's desegregation plan and actually banned use of the term "diversity" from its guiding principles and policies.

The recession has hit our public schools hard. WCPSS has lost tens of millions of dollars in funding this year, and another several tens of millions for next year -- all while the student population grows from between 4,000 and 8,000 new students annually (growth that is aided, ironically, by the high quality of the school system and the sure knowledge that employees who move to the area are assured that their children will receive the best possible education no matter where they choose to reside).

Now "community-based schools" will be competing for dwindling resources -- not as one unified school system, but as a geographically grouped system of individual schools.  

One new school board member was a keynote speaker at a Tea Party event a few days ago; another school board member is also a board member at a private charter school.

I've lost my job, but I've gained the position to voice my opposition to the resegregation of our public schools.

I don't know what I'll do for a living now. But I know what I'll be doing tomorrow: I'll be starting to fight for diversity, for desegregation, for the future of public education for the children of Wake County.

Originally posted to MsSpentyouth on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:21 PM PDT.

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