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Wednesday December 8th

Orange County School Board opens door for redistricting

<p>The Orange County Board of Education discusses Board Policy 4125 regarding school assignments and transfers at a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. The policy was presented for a first reading approval with a second reading waiver on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019.&nbsp;</p>
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The Orange County Board of Education discusses Board Policy 4125 regarding school assignments and transfers at a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. The policy was presented for a first reading approval with a second reading waiver on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019. 

The Orange County School Board unanimously approved a new school assignment policy on Jan. 14 in preparation for future school redistricting. 

According to the new policy, key concerns in redistricting are improving student achievement, keeping current students at their currents schools, maintaining proximity to schools and increasing operational efficiency. The policy also grants the Board power to cap the number of students in schools and lays out a process for transfer students.

Attendance imbalances are the main driver of the Board’s decision, with some schools being overcrowded and others under capacity. For example, according to N.C. State Board of Education data, Central Elementary’s total number of students is below the North Carolina average, while Cameron Park Elementary’s numbers are higher.

“It's just not operationally efficient, and it's been so long,” Orange County School Board member Hillary MacKenzie said. “We just need to revisit it. Every school district needs to do this every once and while, and it's our time — it's really past time.”

The policy provides exceptions for rising fifth graders and eighth graders, who have the opportunity to stay in their current district for one additional year. This exemption also applies to current high schoolers. The policy also seeks to avoid splitting neighborhoods along district lines, while maximizing transportation efficiencies and minimizing the need for mobile classrooms. 

New transfer guidelines allow a school to be listed as open, limited capacity or closed. Open schools accept new transfers, while limited-capacity schools can take transfers only with approval. Closed schools cannot take transfers, except for several specific situations. Membership caps are temporary and must be reviewed yearly.

Beyond just imbalances in numbers, MacKenzie said other challenges are important to consider when rezoning the school district. 

“We basically just want to make sure that there is equity within each of the schools, and that we don't have dense populations of students that need a lot of extra help reading, or student populations with low socioeconomic status so that there's not a heavy burden on one school,” she said.

MacKenzie said while certain schools in the area are not as diverse as others, redistricting can make them more integrated.

Board members discussed attendance numbers in a December 2018 meeting, where Chief Operations Officer Patrick Abele informed the Board that some schools are approaching their capacity.

"All of a sudden, I'm hearing that we have a potential capacity problem at our high schools,” Orange County School Board member Matthew Robertssaid at the meeting. “That's pretty significant, and we're going to have to start thinking about are we going to have to add on to another classroom addition?"

Abele responded, noting that Cedar Ridge High School has enough open seats to accept students from over-capacity schools.

According to the policy, students will be notified of their assignments for the coming school year by July 1, but the document doesn't say what year redistricting will take place.

The N.C. State University Operations Research and Education Laboratory will draw the new lines. While redistricting may cause difficulties for some, MacKenzie said it is necessary to intermittently update the districts.

“I think redistricting is always a little bit painful because you're asking families to make a big change,” she said. “I think that, as a district, we really understand that it's going to be tough.”

MacKenzie stressed the importance of public involvement in the redistricting process and encouraged parents to attend meetings as the board moves forward, and the board will show maps to the community for public comment.

“A lot of us, including myself, have kids in Orange County Schools, so we intimately understand what a big ask it is to have to move schools,” she said. “We don't want anyone to be uncomfortable, but we understand that this is going to be a difficult thing.”

@ABennettDTH

city@dailytarheel.com

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