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Orange County Schools employees bring concerns of overcrowding to Board of Education

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The Orange County Board of Education building, as pictured on Monday, March 28, 2022, is located on East King Street in Hillsborough.

Employees of Orange County Schools came before the Board of Education Monday, Feb. 6, to present updates on redistricting within the school district.

Patrick Abele, Orange County Schools' deputy superintendent, said overcrowding is a concern for the school district as new growth in the area is leading to class sizes that are exceeding capacity. He said the district is bringing in mobile units to help with the problem.

However, he also said the size of cafeterias, gyms and media centers is not increasing — noting the importance of determining the core capacity size of each school.

“More students also means more spaces they need to serve them,” Abele said.

He said the district is looking to ensure that each school boundary serves a balanced group of students and that each school is diverse in its socioeconomic and academic components.

According to Abele, the percentage of students in poverty is rising, with some schools reaching 70 percent of students living in poverty.

Lee Williams II, the district’s chief equity officer, said when breaking down report cards, there is a disconnect between the perceived performance of white students compared to students of color. 

He said this poses a threat to students who may feel like they are unable to meet performance markers. Williams said breaking down these established lines would help the district examine what is best for students as well as promote diversity — racially, economically and linguistically. 

“What I am asking, encouraging and begging is that we do something courageous that most folks won’t,” Williams said. “Look at destroying these lines and looking at doing what’s best for our kids.”

Orange County Schools must dismantle the system of redlining that has caused segregation within the district, he said.

Bus route efficiency is another issue in the district that was discussed. Abele said many students are losing opportunities as a result of long bus rides in the morning and afternoons that are nearly two hours long. He said the district must do better.

Abele also said part of addressing the needs in the district is recognizing that schools are not balanced and are not representative of the community. Redistricting is one solution to this, with the process including determining where the district is, where they want to end up and how to get there.

A reassignment plan is the outcome of redistricting, he said. The superintendent takes the data received and presents the reassignment plan, at which point the community is able to provide feedback. The plan is scheduled to be implemented in August 2024.

Sheri Caligan, a math coach at Pathways Elementary, said she was shocked to see the overpopulated schools being mainly tier two and tier three. Redistricting is needed in order to give students the services they deserve, she said. 

“We can’t do what’s easy for us as adults,” she said. “We have to put the kids first.”

It is the district’s goal to keep parents informed and allow them to have a voice in the process, Abele said, adding that it is important that no one’s voice is lost.

The district announced its plans to work in partnership with Davis Demographics and the Operations Research and Education Laboratory in order to create an assignment plan.

Through these partnerships, the district will work to consider various demographics – including socioeconomic and academic – in potentially creating new school boundaries.

The board has also discussed holding community input sessions with students, staff and other community members to discuss different topics that would influence the reassignment process. 

@madelynvanmeter

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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