Monday, November 21, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            After a growing uproar from the Southeast Raleigh community, the Wake County School Board Tuesday unanimously capped enrollment at Walnut Creek Elementary School (WCES) at 862 students, effective this week.
But WCPSS officials still haven’t adequately explained why they allowed what Growth and Management Supervisor Laura Evans admitted was “a huge amount of growth” for the fledgling high needs/high poverty school, created by the Republican-led board’s neighborhood schools policy, to occur.
And can high needs students there, K-5, learn effectively in an overcrowded atmosphere their parents were promised wouldn't happen?
Originally constructed earlier this year for a student capacity of 780, the $25 million state-of-the-art facility, on traditional calendar, has now officially enrolled an estimated 929 students as of Nov. 16th, WCPSS says, putting it at 149 pupils over capacity.
All 929 students will remain at WCES for the balance of the school year - none will be moved, no more will be enrolled. Officials say the new 862 capacity cap will be reached through attrition, and limiting kindergarten enrollment in 2012.
Any new applicants to WCES will now be diverted to Creech Road Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh, which is on a similar calendar as Walnut Creek, school officials said.
Before the unanimous vote, Wake School Board Vice Chairman John Tedesco tried to lay the blame for the overcrowding on District 4 representative Keith Sutton without calling his name, saying that if Sutton, in whose district WCES resides, hadn’t convinced the board to change the school’s calendar from year-round to traditional, the capacity issue never would have occurred.
Year-round schools are able to handle larger total capacities because groups of students are tracked in on staggered schedules throughout the entire year, as opposed to just August to June for traditional calendar schools. 
In WCES’ case, the issue wasn’t calendar, however, but ineffective management of student enrollment.
Tedesco urged the board to reconsider making WCES year-round eventually, and also called for more schools to be built in Southeast Raleigh in the future.
While the issue of capping WCES’ high enrollment may have been settled, the damage it has left behind remains to be adequately addressed.
Veteran educators, like Marvin Pittman, retired administrator with the NC Dept. of Public Instruction, worried that even with new cap, the overcrowding is creating conditions at WCES that interfere with the delicate process of learning.
“My biggest concern, as an educator, is the number of children at the school,” Pittman told The Carolinian last week. “The school did not open up with the anticipation of [929] students.”
“The staff was hired with the anticipation that they would have small class sizes, and that the school would be small - about 780 students. That’s manageable,” said Pittman, whose church, Compassionate Tabernacle of Missionary Baptist Church in Southeast Raleigh has been vigorously supporting WCES even before it officially opened. “When you put into an elementary school [929] students, you’re asking for trouble.”
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Pittman told members flatly, “Overcrowding is going to be a problem.”
Under growing outrage from Pittman and other Southeast Raleigh community leaders, Wake Supt. Anthony Tata finally acknowledged last week that he and his staff allowed population at WCES to get out of hand.
“We believe that we are on the right track,” Tata told reporters during his weekly press conference last Friday. “[But} we believe that we need to take action now to stay on the right track, and stabilize the enrollment at that school because…the challenges of having too many children could…could potentially go beyond where we want to be.”
But why has it taken so long for Tata to “…believe that we need to take action now”? The fact that WCES has a capacity problem has been evident since it opened in August.
Most schools try to open at approximately 95 percent capacity for the expressed purpose of allowing for transfers and more admissions.
The Republican-led Wake School Board, however, reassigned exactly 780 students to WCES, its initial official capacity, from several other schools - primarily Barwell and East Garner elementary year-round schools - last February before construction was even finished. From the 781st student on, WCES was immediately over capacity, with apparently no controls in place to consistently manage the situation.
When classes officially began at WCES on August 25, 763 students - 17 short of capacity - were enrolled.
According to the WCPSS 2011-2012 Facilities Utilization Report, released just last week, on Sept. 22nd, 20 days after the 2011-2012 school year officially began, WCES logged in 891 students, 111 pupils above capacity.
From August 25 to Sept. 22 alone, WCES was allowed to enroll 128 pupils.
Indeed, according to WCPSS records, WCES was forced to accept students every week since the school opened. WCPSS continued to allow any child, whose parent or guardian brought an affidavit proving neighborhood residency per board policy, to be enrolled in WCES.
Indeed, sources say, children were still being enrolled as recently as last week.
Most of the WCES population swell was happening in kindergarten, first and second grades, Supt. Tata said, adding, “[They] got bigger than what we anticipated and what we intended.”
“I think we’re OK if we can get K, 1 and 2 back to where they need to be,” Tata said.
The situation is forcing school officials to find space on WCES ‘ campus for four modular units that won’t be ready until next summer, and has called into question their promise of smaller class sizes.
The capacity problem has now had an unintended rippling effect on other conditions at the school.
“The answer is not more mobile units, or hiring more teachers and putting them in the building,” Marvin Pittman, who also served as a Wake principal for many years, said.
Tata told reporters last Friday that WCES had 66 teachers, but sources say the school actually has 64 teachers, 29 of which have experience 0 - 4 years; 17 with 5-10 years in the classroom; and 18 with over 10 years of teaching.
At Tuesday’s board work session, WCES Principal Corey Moore said of the actual regular homeroom teachers, 12 were first year.
            Experience levels are key when it comes to effectively teaching high needs children.
A second assistant principal, more teachers and more teacher assistants are also being hired to get class sizes down to recommended levels, Tata said.
            But Pittman says those changes don’t really matter as long as the school remains over-capacity. A larger student population means larger class sizes, and that means teachers not being able to successfully employ the strategies necessary to reach each and every child in that class, because there are too many.
            “You’re going to need time…when you have a bunch of students, the teacher is not going to have the time,” Pittman says.
            Add to that the fact that the student population is high needs/high poverty functioning on a Level 1 or Level 2 low proficiency, and the challenge is compounded, Pittman says, especially for first or second-year educators on the WCES teaching staff, the ones most prone to burn out in high poverty schools.
            “If you go to that school, you’re going to find the teachers worn out, because they are trying so hard,” Pittman says, adding that they need the support of the community and WCPSS Central Office.
            The teachers at WCES also need for more money.
            Because WCES isn’t a Renaissance school, its teachers aren’t being paid extra for the required 45-minute longer school days they have to put in.
            Supt. Tata says his staff is “working on that,” hoping to have WCES qualify as the system’s fifth high needs/high poverty, low performing Renaissance school receiving federal dollars to compensate teachers.
            With 72 percent of its student population free-and-reduced lunch (F&R) - placing WCES among WCPSS’ top ten F&R high poverty schools - and an estimated over 50 percent classified as low achievers, parents, community leaders, and even school board members are concerned that the situation at Walnut Creek, almost midway through its first school year, is getting worse before much is being done to make it better.
Attempting to spin an emerging crisis into some semblance of success, without explaining an apparent failure in managing WCES’ growth, Supt. Tata told reporters Friday, “We wanted to make it a high demand school, and we did,” adding that that was the reason for the over-capacity.
The closest Tata came to explaining why he’s taken so long to deal with problem was when he said, “ Demand is higher than was anticipated.”
Area Supt. July Mizell told board members during their work session Tuesday that the high demand “was not predictable,” even though staff had been watching it all along, trying to find space in “nontraditional places” at the school.
Translation - the growth got way from them.
A chief source of WCES being “beyond capacity,” according to Tata, is the legal mandate that classrooms for kindergarteners and first-graders must be located on the first floor of elementary school buildings, one of the reasons why one of two special classrooms at WCES had to be converted to deal with the overflow.
“We’re working through some other solutions to house those students in the building,” the superintendent assured.
Tata admitted that because of its capacity issues, WCES “quickly leapt into…” the top five over-capacity schools in the system. He insists that because WCPSS is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars, additional personnel, new technology and programs into WCES, it is “on track” to succeed.
He added that his new school choice assignment plan “…will prevent this kind of growth from happening inside a school by managing capacity through firm controls and choice.” Enrolling only 115 kindergarteners next year will “right-size the elementary school,” Tata promised.
“We will not have an overcrowding situation unless we choose to breach the capacity limit set,” Tata assured.
            Retired educator Marvin Pittman is also hearing from WCES parents, and they’re concerned that with almost 150 more students than originally planned for, WCES hasn’t been able to appropriately stabilize into its core mission. Additional teachers this late in the school year means students may have a different instructor in front of them in February than they had in August.
            “These students need stability,” Pittman says. “They have just moved from other schools into Walnut Creek. They’re beginning to know their teachers, so now you have to disrupt them again to send them to another teacher. The parents are [concerned] about all of this transition, so just sending more trailers and more teachers is not the answer.”
            At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Pittman vowed that the Southeast Raleigh community “will work with you” to make Walnut Creek a successful elementary school. He said there are many retired educators who are willing to give of their time and energy to assist however they can.
            “We are a demanding community in Southeast Raleigh,” Pittman said.
            To attorney Mark Dorosin, professor at the UNC School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights, what’s happening at, and to WCES, “was predictable.”
“We saw this happening when the school board started reassigning students over the last few years,” Prof. Dorosin, who helped research and draw up the NCNAACP’s federal racial bias complaint against the Wake School Board with the US Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, told the Power 750 WAUG-AM program, “Make It Happen,” last Thursday.
“[The Wake School Board] created a brand new school that was racially-isolated, high poverty, and low-performing school,” Dorosin continued, noting that the Wake School Board never denied that, but to placate its critics, announced that it would compensate for it with more resources.
“And what we know is that that is an untenable model,” Dorosin said, adding that when it comes to what the new school choice plan offers, “Walnut Creek is the canary in the coal mine. The worst case scenario which we envisioned has come into fruition.”
Tuesday also marked the last Wake School Board meeting for Chairman Ron Margiotta - who lost his election after eight years -  and board members Dr. Carolyn Morrison and Dr. Anne McLaurin, who are leaving.
In his final statement, Margiotta, a Republican, said even though there had been tensions on the board during his tenure, he always found his colleagues to be respectful and professional.
He added that he was proud of his eight years on the board.
Democrats take over the majority on the school board on Dec. 6th.


            [RALEIGH] On Dec. 6th, Wake School Board member John Tedesco will find himself where he’s not used to being - in the minority. Thanks to the recent five-seat clean sweep by Democrats that retook the majority on the board, Tedesco, a Tea Party Republican, will now be in the minority until his re-election bid in 2013. But last week, the Garner representative indicated that he is giving serious consideration to running in 2012 for state superintendent of Public Instruction, the post that Democratic incumbent June Atkinson currently occupies. Tedesco, a proponent of neighborhood schools who has traveled across the state giving speeches before Tea Party rallies for the two years he’s been in office, says he will wait until after the holidays to make a final decision on a run. If he does run, Tedesco may have to run in a Republican primary first.

            [RALEIGH] State Senate Democrats and the NCNAACP called on Senate Republican leaders to ignore a request from North Carolina district attorneys to repeal the NC Racial Justice Act. The General Assembly reconvenes next week and could take up the matter. The law allows those convicted of murder to shoe evidence of racial bias by the prosecution. Prosecutors say the law only serves to prolong he court process.

            [WASHINGTON, D.C.]  The Republican-led Craven County Commission Board wants its legislative delegation to request a voter I.D. local law that would require residents there to show photo identification when they vote. US Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC-1) is blasting the commissioners for the idea, saying in a statement that he’s “deeply disappointed.”
            “I am disappointed that the Craven County Board of Commissioners is among the latest to join a nationwide Republican-led initiative to suppress voting rights,” said Butterfield.  “Jurisdictions across the country and state are seeking tougher restrictions on voting only because it will disenfranchise young, minority, and low-income voters--all of which traditionally vote Democratic.  These efforts are purely political and have nothing to do with safeguarding elections.” Gov. Perdue vetoed the voter I.D. law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last summer.


            A detention officer in the Wake County jail will not face criminal charges after an inmate he struck in the head is now unable to speak, walk or feed himself. Officer Michael Hayes was defending himself after the prisoner, Joshua Martin Wrenn, 29, attacked him, says Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby. Hayes hit Wrenn in the head with his fist to stop him. Willoughby says Wrenn was suffering from a brain aneurysm, which caused his later condition. Wrenn’s family, however, says they still feel the officer was responsible.

            The Republican-led Wake County Commission Board says despite a $500 million revenue drop, they were able to forge a new budget for the coming year which still provides vital services, and meets the needs of citizens. Revenues are starting to grow slowly again, says Commission Chair Paul Coble, and with no property tax increases. 
            Once again, the Durham County Courthouse is being rocked by controversy as Durham District Attorney Tracy Cline is publicly calling Durham Senior Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson guilty of  "moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption" because of his recent rulings against her. Judge Hudson has blasted Cline for several previous cases he’s had to overturn because, he’s ruled, Cline, as a prosecutor, had not handled them properly. Cline filed a response with the court, ripping Judge Hudson for his rulings against her, saying that it was personal. Cline wants Hudson removed from criminal matters.

MARGIOTTA'S GONE - Ron Margiotta, seen here with fellow Republican Venita Peyton, left the Wake County School Board Tuesday after eight year as a member, and two years as its chairman. A chair, Margiotta led the school system away from student diversity to a controversial neighborhood schools policy. Margiotta lost his bid for a third term last month, and with it, his Republican majority [file photo]

NEW RWCA PRESIDENT - Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh, was elected Nov. 17 as the new president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association. Rev. Johnson succeeds outgoing President Danny Coleman, who served two terms. Other elected officers include Michael Leach as the new RWCA vice president, Betty Poole as Secretary, and Bernard Allen Jr. as Treasurer. [photo courtesy of Christian Faith Baptist Church]


                             HATE CRIME VICTIM NOW LEADS NAACP BRANCH

NAACP BRANCH PRESIDENT OVERCOMES - [Arlington, Texas] Silk Littlejohn-Gamble, seen here taking the oath of office with her husband, Broderick (center) and pastor, Rev. Frederick Haynes III, was sworn-in recently as the new president of the Arlington NAACP. In 2007, Littlejohn-Gamble was viciously beaten in a hate crime, and slurs written on her home. [Photo Gordon Jackson of the Dallas Weekly]

           WHY WE ARE THANKFUL -  Every year at this juncture, we take the time to count our blessings.
            Or at least we should.
            True, there is much happening in our world, indeed in our nation and state, which makes us anxious, if not fearful about what could possibly happen next.
            Our economy is on life support. People who want to work, and are able to work, cannot find gainful employment.
            And our national and state leaders are playing Russian Roulette with our future, intoxicated with the potential power that partisan politics can bring.
            There are times when, just like you, we turn on the television, watch what’s going, and shake our heads wondering, “Lord, can it get any worse?”
            Of course it can, but that’s why we should be thankful.
            Our Bible tells us that when it comes to the faith that all of us should have in Almighty GOD, we should expect that it will be tested vigorously, and often.
            How else would we recommit ourselves to that which the Lord would have us do?
            In thanking Him for all that He has allowed us to accomplish and achieve, we also commit ourselves to doing more that helps the least of us, and brings justice and brings justice and mercy to all of us.
            That speaks to the blessing that is our community.
            We are a blessed people here in Wilmington. Despite our torrid history of 1898, the remnants of which have tainted our community for over a century after the fact, we still march on.
            We march on in demanding a better education for our children in our public school system.
            We march on in demanding equal opportunity in jobs and small business opportunities so that the families in our community can prosper and grow.
            We march on in demanding equal treatment under the law by our criminal justice system, and constructive alternatives to incarceration for some of our young people who need stronger direction and guidance.
            We march on in challenging our lawmakers at all levels, to stop the partisan bickering, and truly address the pressing needs of the people.
            And finally, we march on in joining all right-thinking people in praying for the safety of our president and his family, hoping that he continues to find the courage to stand up to those whose hatred of America’s true mission of freedom, justice and equality threatens us all.
            The fact that we and our families are still here, despite all that we face everyday in our continuing struggle to overcome, is reason, in itself, to be thankful.
            The fact that we still dare to stand, and lead, and speak out to inspire and educate so that others may be blessed by the fruits of their sacrifice, is reason to be thankful.
            And the fact that, despite all that we’ve been through as a people and community in the past; all that we are going through in the present; and certainly all that is yet to come to test our energy, faith, and strength of spirit, we are still standing strong, bloodied, but ever determined to march on until, as the old Negro National Anthem prescribes, “…victory is won,” means the blessing of thankfulness is truly bountiful in our souls.
            So we pray that as you and your family sit down for a delicious Thanksgiving meal together - something families rarely, and unfortunately don’t do anymore - you will look around that dinner table, look at the faces of your loved ones, and indeed count the many, many blessings GOD has granted you.
            There is much we can be thankful for, if only we open our minds and our hearts.
            To all of our many readers, advertisers, supporters and staff, Happy Thanksgiving.
             Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ''Make It Happen'' on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at You can hear podcasts of the program by downloading segments at
           And read more about my thoughts, opinions and stories exclusively at my new blog, ‘The Cash Roc” ( I promise it will be interesting.
Cash in the Apple - honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Carolinian in your life. Bye, bye.


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