School redistricting wrap-up

school reassignment mapLast 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.

The Process

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. 

The Districts

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.

The Politics

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!

CHCCS Redistricting Plan 2.1

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.


Honestly, if your piece were any more one-sided I fear my laptop would fall over.  Perhaps if you spent more time researching and attending the meetings and less time throwing around allegations of racism, then your efforts might come across in a more balanced manner.The CHCCSS was a broken process from the beginning.  Todd LoFrese and his Excel minions essentially came up with 2 plans.  Plans 1-3 were all basically the same while Plan 4 provided for community schools.  It's important to note that all 4 plans offered a reduction in variability in SES, at-risk, reading and math compared to the current plan.  Thus, even Plan 4 was going to be an improvement in approaching the diversity values that we in CH hold dear (using the broken process that Todd established).Once those plans were developed, Todd headed up the Advisory Council Meetings which essentially gave a select group of parents an opportunity to see the plans and make minor changes.  Lip service at its best.  You can see evidence of the impotence of these meeting most clearly by comparing any of the final plan versions to their earlier iterations.  I was there.  Their voice was muted or non-existent.  This point was also clearly articulated by one of the AC's own members at least 2 of the board meetings.Once this song and dance was completed, Todd then presented the plans to the full board for review.  Then, it came time for the public hearings where the overwhelming majority of public comments were in favor of Plan 4.1.  The speakers came from across Chapel Hill, not just 74A.  It's actually a shame so many of the other voices were diluted by the banality of the 74A approach, but 74A did the work to get people out so kudos to them.  You criticize the citizenry for coming up with their own plans, but you failed to point out that Todd created these plans without using optimization software, using a proxy variable for SES status that Todd admitted was poor, and using distance to the school as a variable without considering the actual time it takes to get there.  On their own, each of these represents a failure on the part of the administration to do their due diligence.  Taken together, it's egregious and infuriating that our children would be subjected to the whims of this poor of a process.    With this in mind it's no wonder the citizens attempted to cobble together an alternative plan.  It's also no surprise they failed since the administration refused to share data even anonymized data with them.  I mean why would the administration want to leverage the brainprower of one of the most highly educated cities per capita in the United States to right the wrongs they were about to perpetrate on our children, right?  Actually, if my data was as bad as theirs, I would probably try to hide it too.I felt sympathy for board members Michelle Brownstein,  James Barrett, and Mike Kelley who actually seemed invested in improving the process and creating the best plan for all families, but they were hamstrung by the administration's tight timelines and refusal to go back and do the real work necessary to appropriately define their key variables and build a plan from them.  One can only hope that the board tries to improve the process for next time and that those who oversee transfer requests display empathy for the plight that so many parents have been put in by this travesty.I also share your hope that now that the dust has settled, we can work together on making ALL of our schools into great learning communities, especially since you will be shoulder-to-shoulder with me as our kids attend Northside Elementary together. At least I know whom to vote for and against in the next election though.  Heck, maybe I'll still be mad enough to run myself.

It was definitely not my experience that the majority of public comments were in favor of Plan 4. If you look at my tweets from that evening, it was the anti-4 group that spoke repeatedly and inflamatorily (is that a word?). I found their ideas quite distateful but I didn't understand the full scope of it until a couple of school board members told me later about the outright racist e-mails they were getting from these parents. Commissioner Dorosin's letter to the school board then crystallized the ideas that I still didn't have many good words for.I'm definitely in favor of parent involvement, and I don't doubt that this process could have worked better. Like most parents, I didn't have time to attend the Redistricting Advisory Council meetings, and that shouldn't be a requirement for understanding and engaging with the process. I am certainly disappointed with the schools' failure to use technology (as well as other avenues) to better engage parents, but they're just as bad as our municipal and county governments in that regard. As for being "one-sided," I try to be fair, but not balanced. It's not my job as an activist or blogger to tell every "side" of a story, but I'm very happy when other people do share their varying ideas respectfully - just as you did here. So thanks for the response, Jacob.

I am a parent who was involved one step before the redistricting process started in full force. This was when FPG was turned into a dual language school. It was our hope that the new Northside Elementary could have been made into the DL school, thereby preserving the diverse community that is/was FPG. Especially important to us was the Burmese refugee population that is within walking distance to FPG. After many emails to the School Board and meetings attended, it was not to be. And so…

Go Northside!!! I just have to chime in with the positive energy that our group is bringing to Northside. Parents are excited and our kids are thrilled. Our favorite media specialist, Ms. Cole, is getting the library up & running. We'll have a principal known for excellence. The school itself has so many great features (rooftop garden, school-wide energy efficiency). The future students are being engaged in picking out the school colors and mascot.

So get ready, y'all, Northside El. is going to rock!

The Chapel Hill School district is arguably the best in the state, and the differences between schools are small.  The town is so compact, that even being bussed to a different "far away" school will have little impact on a child's development. As a parent I think its a mistake to try and make every aspect of a child's life perfect. First its impossible, and second, it robs children of the opportunity to learn how to approach a less than ideal solution and turn it to their own advantage.If I may be permitted the luxury of a personal example, growing up in the country I had a 45 minute bus ride each way to school through all of elementary and middle, and it got longer in high school.   I used that time to read the most wonderful books, and the 1.5 hours of solid reading a day catapulted my reading skills to the point I was going through at least an adult novel a week.  The supposedly horrible bus ride turned out to be a major reason for my later success in school and in life. Children are not only resilant, but will benefit from learning that change can be good, and they can thrive no matter what.  That just may be the most important lesson they learn in school.  

When I visited the KIPP school in Gaston last year, some kids there ride the bus for 2 hours each way just to get to the great education.  They use that time productively as you did, whether for reading or homework.  I know that's not the case for every student, and it is perhaps less than ideal, but one of the books Dr Forcella had us read for our retreat last week was all about how we need kids to be resilient, so there's definitely an up side to being further away. --James Barrett
Member of Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board
Unless otherwise noted, my comments here are my own, not opinions of the school board or my employer

Redistricting in Chapel Hill is really sad.  My neighborhood south of 54 was redistricted to Northside, which is a crazy long bus ride.  However, we're not complaining because I know of not one child in my segment who will attend.  That's because our neighborhood got trashed last time around when we were redistricted to FPG.  My family gave FPG a chance, but the damage they did to my son's education in one year was unforgivable.  When he got accepted to Woods Charter, moving him was a no-brainer.  Now days, few kids around here go to the same school and they hardly know each other.  It really damaged the community.FPG's regular school program failed to educate it's kids to No Child Left Behind standards, so the school board closed it down.  They should have learned something from this.  FPG failed because of the high poverty rate created from a bad redistricting plan in 2008.  Instead of learning from their mistakes, they designed Northside to be an at-risk school from the beginning, with a large poor population in it's walk zone.  I hope I'm wrong, but one look at the redistricting map should set off alarm bells.  Northside's district looks like a six-slice pizza, with every other slice missing.  Expecting kids in those far-flung slices to show up is wishful thinking.So, when you hear 74A complain about the bus ride, don't listen. They've got it easy.  However, grieve with them over the incredible loss they will face as their community fragments. Grieve for kids FPG let down, and for the kids Northside is likely to let down as it's crushed by the poverty that will remain once middle class kids leave. Be upset that your children will suffer in middle and high school as their teachers focus on helping poorly educated kids from FPG and Northside.  Feel for all those parents in 74A who are desperately trying to figure out how to afford private school while saving for college.  Grieve for the loss of the state's best school district as we continue to drive parents who care about education away.  And then... vote for a school board with a clue!

There is no evidence for the statement that FPG was shut down for failing NCLB.  FPG was chosen for the new magnet program because it met the reasonable criteria best.  Yes, there is an impact to children assigned there, but let's not re-write history. Second, there's no evidence to suggest Northside Elementary will fail.   The # of students from the neighborhood, even if you inaccurately believe they are all in poverty, is a small minority of the students at the school, and that's why balancing multiple factors for the entire school and district is important. 074A fragmenting is their own choice.  Given the innovative principal and plans, I predict there will be no educational difference at Northside from their previous school.  I voted against this plan because I don't think it was the best possible plan and didn't balance all criteria in our policy (and because I'm very disappointed in treatment of known refugee community at Kingswood Apartments).  But I don't think it is helpful to moving forward to make such assumptions. --James Barrett
Member of Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board
Unless otherwise noted, my comments here are my own, not opinions of the school board or my employer

Hi, James.  Being on the board, can I assume you're partly responsible for this mess?  Do you actually think FPG is a good school?  If not, why would that have no impact on your decision to close it? I know FPG had to hire expensive tutors last year because of NCLB sanctions.  Wasn't it over 100?  I also know how FPG failed a lot of kids around here.  Putting my son in a class of non-English speakers while they learned English for a year was unforgivable, and I'm not likely to get over that any time soon.  My next door neighbor sends his son to Morris Grove.  My friend down the hill had something so terrible happen to his child at FPG that he wont even tell me about it.  However, he was able to force the school district allow his child to attend Scroggs after that.  The kids across the street also attends Woods Chartered.  Down the street another friend pulled her kids and home schools them.  Most of these families used to attend Scroggs.  FPG let us down.  Why wouldn't a school's performance be a factor in voting to shut it down?I do hope that Northside does well. As you say, I'm ill-informed about the makeup of the Northside neighborhood.  That's because the school board now keeps all such data secret.  That wouldn't bother me if I felt I could count on you to be smart about using the data you have.  However, the board voted for a plan at FPG with 20% free/reduced lunch population, yet what they got was 44% the first year.  They were off by over 2X.  The reason for this is the board counted on kids in neighborhoods like mine to stay at FPG, and they failed to account for the continued growth of the Hispanic population.  They assumed 100% of the middle class kids would show up at FPG, and that the population numbers would be constant.  Basically, the board failed to use their data properly, and the failure of FPG was the result.What I want to know is whether the board has repeated it's mistakes in using data.  Did you assume all those Asian kids from 74A will actually show up at Northside?  Please tell me you accounted for losing a lot of them.  Also, please tell me your spread sheets used actual enrolment numbers, rather than the number of kids living in each segment.  Also, please tell me you separated out the kids already in the dual-language program who will be happy to stay at FPG.  If you did all that, I think the number in your spreadsheet for segment 175 should be 0, or very close to it.  Is that what you used?  If not, you've screwed up.  Please tell me you guys didn't repeat the 2008 blunder.  If you did, Northside is a terrible mistake. Thanks, Bill

Bill, before you interrogate a hard-working public official over your assumptions around issues that are all public information, please at least try to look a few things up.For example, if you click the first link on this blog post, you'll see information about how this reassignment process was planned, what information was and was not available, etc.'s hard enough for the school leaders to balance out the real data including socioeconomic measures, race, and driving time without expecting them to also have ESP about which neighborhoods will be disproportionately prejuduced about public education.

I have looked it up.  I've read every public document associated with this redistricting and Northside that I can find online.  How many kids are in each segment?  How many were there last time we checked?  What were their EOG scores last time?  How about now?  This data exists, but it's not available.  Again, if I saw any evidence that the board understood how to use all this data accurately, I wouldn't be concerned.  I agree with their overall goals in redistricting.  I wouldn't be concerned that they are incompetent except that they proved in 2008 that they are.At what point is it OK to question officials? After they ruin your own kids education, or before?It's not ESP, just hard work.  In 2008, I visted every segment that was being redistricted to or from FPG to find out what was going on there.  For example, one appartment complex being assigned to Scroggs had just doubled rents because the owners were renovating.  Nearly all the Hispanic families had already moved to a nearby complex being assigned to FPG.  The numbers the board had for these two appartment complexes were vastly inacurate. There's simply no substitue for meeting with the people and learning about them, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.  In contrast, the well off neighborhoods will be in your face to make sure you know their conerns, assuming they still care.  Having been trashed by the school system for years, our neighborhood no longer cares much.  You wont hear many complaints from parents of the 0 students we will send from segment 157 to Northside.  However, I'd bet good money the school board's spreadsheet has us down for over a dozen kids, all with top SES ratings.If you want accuracy, you've got to meet the parents, period. When's the last time a school board member pounded some pavement in a "segment" they were moving? Bill

Well, I can't say I'll miss seeing you at PTA meetings!Are you assuming that Northside residents are disproportioately poor because the neighborhood is historically African American? Or because we live in smaller houses in this part of town (I live in the walk zone)?And even if the above were true, are you assuming that Northside wil have more poor students because it's in a "poor" neighborhood?  Plan 2 was selected in part because it balances out socio-economic factors across all the schools. The walk zone only makes up a small portion of the students in most schools. Faulty logic, at best. About as coherent as this recent DTH article

Hi, Ruby. I think we're probably pretty well alligned on education and politics.  I canvased for Obama on election day.  I'm a big supporter of our district's education taxes, even if I can't send my kids to schools here.  I enjoy your work on, and thank you for it.You're right that I'm making assumptions.  From my quick tour of the Northside neighborhood, I found it hipper and nicer than I'd feared.  If the school board provided access to the data it used in redistricting, I would not have to make bind assumptions.The only portion of your post above I take issue with is "faulty logic".  Logic is my specialty.  It's what I do.  Mike is right that we should have used optimization software.  I write similar software for a living.  Embedding accurate knowledge in the model is the hardest part.  You need people who understand data, and people who understand the problem.  I don't have all the facts, but what I see so far supports the theory that the school board continues to have no clue how to use data. Now that they keep their data secret, we'll have to wait for the outcome to see if they knew what they were doing. Best regards, Bill

The seven of us on the board had no access to data the public didn't.  The plans were done by administration and only they had access to the data you mention.   --James Barrett
Member of Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board
Unless otherwise noted, my comments here are my own, not opinions of the school board or my employer


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