Last month the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board decided on the new school districts that will go into effect as we open our eleventh elementary school this fall. I was always aware that these school reassignment discussions were contentious, but now that my son will be starting kindergarten in 2014, I'm trying to learn a lot more about how our coveted educational sausage is made. Since my neighborhood was assigned to the walk zone of the brand-new Northside Elementary, I was able to wade deeper into the mucky reassignment debate without having much personal investment in the outcome.
I think the board did the right thing in choosing the plan that did the best job of distributing racial and economic diversity. But the process is inherently impossible. There is simply no way to put everyone in the school they want without inconveniencing someone else. In this post I attempt to briefly summarize how the whole 2012-2013 redistricting went down.
Back in August, Geoff Greene and I blogged about the proposed reassignment process. The superintendent issued a memo outlining a schedule of 4 Redistricting Advisory Council Meetings in November and 2 public hearings to take place in December. The memo discussed what data and analysis would be available, and what criteria was to be used.
And yet I'm sure very few readers will be surprised to hear that certain parents and even a couple of school board members criticized this process as late as December and January for things like not allowing parents to propose their own reassignment plans. This frankly made no sense to me. In what other part of government would you invite the public to architect an entire policy based solely on their own self interests? It seems like putting the foxes in charge of the hen house, and the children of parents who lack the time and energy to study GIS and community demographics would most certainly suffer.
I had glanced at maps of the four proposed districts, but it was hard to find much to distinguish them until I attended (and live-tweeted) one of the public hearings on reassignment. As anyone could guess, just about every parent that spoke was strongly in favor of THEIR child not moving to a different school. This is the paradox of having an excellent school system: people like where they are so they don't want to change, but more people keep coming here to enjoy those same great schools which then become overcrowded so we are forced to open new schools, and then then districts have to be reassigned to fill the new schools.
This awful cycle made it particularly hilarious to me to hear so many parents saying variations on "we moved here a few years ago so my child could attend this great school, how dare you make us move!" It's pretty hard for those of us who have lived here for decades to have sympathy for this problem. But by far the largest and loudest group of parents were those from Parkside and Larkspur who had shirts and signs in favor of plan 4 and for "community schools" and "neighborhood schools" - language directly inspired by the Republican takeover of the Wake County School Board.
It turns out that using the same language as segregationists was a pretty good indicator of what those anti-4 parents were all about. While some of them leaned on the spurious argument that it would take them several minutes more to drive to Northside than to their current school Sewell (which cannot seriously be considered anyone's "neighborhood school" as there are no homes nearby and no sidewalks to it). Many also hinted at the truth that was directly conveyed in some of their letters and calls to the school board: they didn't want their kids going to school in a Black neighborhood or with lots of Black kids. (Nevermind that the plan they opposed most is the one that strives to most evenly distribute the racial mix of students.) This may seem especially strange given that nearly all the Parkside parents who spoke against plan 4 are Asian.
It's less surprising when we remember the recent history of the Parkside and Larkspur area, which raised so much opposition to the citing of the IFC Community House on the other side of a park (see the whole IFC tag on OP, and this epic thread from 2010 for example). This is also the part of town that gave us perpetual candidate and bigoted fearmonger Kevin Wolff, as well as other great xenophobic moments in Chapel Hill history. Fortunately local civil rights advocates such as the NAACP and County Commissioner Mark Dorosin identified this not-so-thinly veiled racism directly, and asked the school board to approve a plan that evenly balanced at-risk students among all the schools.
And that is exactly what they did when the school board approved plan 2.1 (see below). Now when you look at this, you can see why Parkside/Larkspur (segment 074A) was unhappy. They are a little blob of green in a sea of purple, salmon, and yellow. No other neighborhoods on their entire side of town will go to Northside. But when they made threats of filing a federal civil rights case over this, many of these parents lost their credibility and made it nearly impossible to negotiate with them. In addition, they are hardly the only neighborhood in this position. In fact they are not even the furthest discontinuous segment from their respective school.
I hope that now that the dust has settled, we can work together on making ALL of our schools into great learning communities. Especially since I will be shoulder-to-shoulder with these very same parents as our kids attend Northside Elementary together. Wish me luck!
If this post didn't put you to sleep, you might like to peruse the CHCCSS Redistricting 2012-13 web page. But you might not.