Wake superintendent meets with NAACP president

July 7, 2011 2:09:19 PM PDT
Wake County Schools's superintendent indicated in a recent letter to the NAACP's North Carolina chapter president that he wanted to know about community outreach efforts by the organization.

Tony Tata got the chance to learn more when he met with Rev. William Barber Thursday morning. The pair - along with some NAACP members - discussed student assignment, minority teachers and principal recruitment, among other things.

The NAACP has continued to express concern over the Wake County Public School System's decision to end the county's nationally recognized socio-economic diversity policy. Barber has long argued that a community-based school assignment plan would move toward school re-segregation.

The NAACP wanted two questions answered in Thursday's meeting. Will the new student assignment plan be better that the old diversity plan and will there be a guarantee of no high poverty schools?

"They're still working on a plan so they're not able to answer what are the guarantees in the proposed plan that will work to ensure that we won't create racially identifiable, high poverty schools," Barber said. "And if we do, what will be the remedy?".

The NAACP wants diversity to be written into the student assignment policy, touting Wake's national reputation for the way it tried to limit the number of lower income students at a given school. The school board tossed out that policy in order to send children to schools closer to home.

"Even if we didn't meet it all the time, we'd have a goal of no more than 40 percent poor children at any one school, no more than 25 percent underperforming," Barber added.

Tata -- who works for the school board that has conservative members pushing for the community schools policy -- has created new proposed student assignment plans.

The plans are said to offer families stability and access to high performing schools. One of the biggest driving forces in changing the way students are assigned to schools is stability.

"Right now we have 60 schools that are high poverty schools that are above 40 percent, so this notion that the old plan prevented high poverty schools is a myth," Tata said.

Tata is making it clear diversity, while important, is not the primary focus of his plan.

"We very deliberately moved forward to try to focus on student achievement first and foremost, and that's where we are we're focused -- on student achievement," he added. "[The] plan is going to get us there."

Barber says Tata's plans will not focus on diversity.

"He wasn't even handed the option of the old plan, he was handed do this," Barber said. "You can't look at diversity; you can't put that as a major part of what we're doing." Tata disagrees.

"To say we didn't consider it or I had my hands tied, I don't feel like that's a very accurate statement," the Superintendent said. "The green plan is very close to what the old plan was."

Barber also says parents should not get too excited about the school of their choice under the proposed student assignment plan.

"We found out today that seat availability is still a big issue," Barber said. "In other words, if you say children will have a choice, it's a question of whether or not they'll really have the seats available for that choice."

The two sides ended the meeting thankful for each other's time and vowing to work together.

They agree on the importance of recruiting and hiring more minority teachers and administrators. Eighty percent of teachers are Caucasian while minorities make up more than 50 percent of the student population.

"We just want to make sure we have the best talent available for our students," Tata added.

The NAACP suggests heavy recruitment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which is something it says it will work with the school system to achieve.

Thursday's meeting comes almost four months after Tata and Barber met privately to discuss how they could work together to increase student achievement for all children in Wake County.

Not long after that meeting in March, Tata along with former members of the school board's Student Assignment Committee met with investigators with the Office of Civil Rights as part of an investigation that stemmed from a complaint filed by the NAACP.

Last September, the organization filed the complaint with the U.S. Justice Department and the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying that the policies would violate that law, which states that the recipients of federal funds cannot discriminate on basis of race, color or national origin.

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