This communication was sent to editors of the N&O by me. I have yet to see them print it and I do kindly appreciate your consideration of sharing it with your members and friends.    Thank you,   John Tedesco


Moving Forward for our children

Looking back on this past year presents many successes and opportunities to grow.  While not usually shown in the media, the Wake County School Board has produced measurable gains in several key areas. The many positive things accomplished in our first year may have been easily missed; many accomplishments of which we can be proud.

Often our Board is portrayed as being 5-4 with a great chaos and divide, but in reality I believe that more than 80% of the literally hundreds of votes we have taken have not been 5-4. This would include many substantive issues. Proudly we voted to recommend that the General Assembly lift the cap on charter schools, we tightened budgets, cut administrative overhead, and protected classroom teachers.  None of these votes were 5-4.

Admittedly, there are some 5-4 votes on matters of strong debate, and as we represent different districts with broad values it can be expected. In the recent State of the Union, the President noted, “The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands.”   I agree.

Ultimately, I respect all my colleagues, even when we disagree. I believe we all care greatly for all children.  I truly believe these heated debates have sparked a meaningful conversation among our community on equality, equity, and access.  It is a conversation that is reviving our commitment to our most underserved children.

I am proud of our good schools. We have thousands of dedicated teachers, staff, and parents that work tirelessly. Thank you all for your commitment to our 144,000 students. Still as a community there is a lot more we must do to make our schools great and even more if they are to be truly world class.

The Wrong Direction

To go from good to great we have to acknowledge where we have fallen short. Prior to me joining the board this past year we saw 5 years of a consecutive decline in graduation rates for all students, and a 54% graduation rate for low-income children (less for some other minority subgroups) – this is wrong. I credit former Superintendent Bill McNeal who had previously made gains in closing our achievement gaps because of his personal commitment to this mission, but for the 5 years following his departure the gaps broadened again.

This year we looked at the academic performance of children who were bused out of Southeast Raleigh to see if they were being served well. They had a 46% reading proficiency in 3rd grade, and those who had been bused for 5 more years held a 47% reading proficiency by 8th grade. That means 53% of them still cannot read. THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.  At some point, we have got to teach these kids how to read.

Due to institutional barriers, greater than 70% of minority children who qualified for advanced placement and tested level III & IV were actually kept out of advanced classes and wrongly placed into remedial courses simply because they were labeled low-income. Sadly, 21,000 kids were suspended in Wake County– we were a national leader in suspensions. We were exacerbating a school to prison pipeline. I know there are strong challenges for our economically disadvantaged students, but I also strongly believe that poor does not equate to lower academic potential. For those who do have challenges we need to be there to help our children succeed, but as a system we need to have high expectations for ALL students.

Prior to the SES (socio-economic status) busing policy being implemented, Wake had 5% of our schools cross that high poverty threshold.  Today we have over a third, or more than 50 schools, that exceed that threshold.  Some schools had been steadily climbing toward 80% poverty and the district had done little about it other than re-shuffle the student body. Student distribution is not the most appropriate strategy to ensure student achievement. I am certain that we can and we MUST do better by our children.

For Our Most Vulnerable Children

Proudly, I pushed for and established the Board’s first Economically Disadvantaged Child Task Force to look at the comprehensive array of issues impacting our most vulnerable children and to engage our community. I was honored to be appointed to chair and assemble a committee of community leaders. We pressed for a new math placement criteria that challenged more kids with rigorous academics. We advocated for new discipline practices and alternative education opportunities; we pushed for discussions of program equity, funding equity and fairness.

This year I introduced the Full Service Community School model to district leaders.  We then introduced this model to the County Commissioners. The pilot model will be offering extended day learning, wrap around support, early intervention, and a better alignment of existing county resources.  Using public schools in challenged neighborhoods as hubs these community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of support opportunities to children and families. More can be learned at www.communityschools.org

Personally I pushed to establish a reform model for underperforming schools. Thanks to Dr. Hargen’s help this year we introduced the Renaissance School model. We selected 4 schools based on the lowest rates of performance with some of our highest rates of poverty.

We identified a portion of our “Race to the Top” dollars to support these efforts. With those dollars we will be providing increased teacher trainings, teacher evaluations, and support networks. We will evaluate teacher effectiveness and recruit some of our most effective teachers and principals to work where the need is greatest.  We will also use a lower student teacher ratio to ensure the children better personal support and time with teacher.

Advancing Opportunities for ALL

  • We integrated a SAS data driven tool EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) into academic decision making to promote and support effective learning practices across the district.
  • We are piloting an innovative expansion of AP offerings through a corporate grant to support video conferencing of joint classrooms between high schools at Knightdale and Green Hope.
  • We have changed the math placement criteria to be income-blind and saw a marked increase just this first year in the number of students taking more rigorous advanced math in middle school.
  • We digitized all the IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) across the district to share access to broader teams of support for our most vulnerable children and better aligned special needs services.

Safer Schools more Graduates

  • We are revising nearly a dozen student discipline policies.
  • We created more alternative education opportunities (I feel we still need to do more).
  • We expanded online learning opportunities for students on suspension.
  • We are developing a matrix of new sanctions, such as Saturday community service on campus as alternatives to suspension: now we are not just putting kids on the streets to join gangs and do drugs.
  • We established a Discipline Review Team to review fair implementation of sanctions.

These efforts have combined for more than a 30% reduction in suspensions thus far this school year.

Supporting Our Community

  • We made adjustments in node assignments to assign many children closer to home.
  • We adjusted assignments to year-round schools to provide parental choice.
  • We removed discriminatory barriers in the magnet selection applications.  Combined these efforts have reduced parental appeal hearings by nearly 40%.
  • We removed the “Wacky Wednesdays” while keeping our commitment to the Professional Learning Team that enhance the development of our teachers.
  • We have noted significant increase in school volunteer applications this year with our new focus on community schools.
  • We have broadened our support to be more inclusive of community groups like the Boy Scouts and are seeing increased civic participation in our schools.

Keeping Dollars in the Classrooms

  • When the prior board had to cut $35 million the previous year they immediately dropped hundreds of teachers. This year we had $22 million in budget cuts to manage and we did not cut any of our teachers.
  • We trimmed administrative services and renegotiated service contracts. Such examples would be the renegotiated contracts for cell phones district wide that saved $400,000 and human resource software for another $100,000.
  • Additionally, we consolidated 5 administrative buildings into 1. This will be a projected $29 million more in savings over the next 10 years. This will also add those properties back to the county tax rolls.
  • We saved an additional $338,000 for tax-payers by reducing senior administrator roles and sharing the posts of Chief Academic Officer and Interim Superintendent.
  • We are spending more on education and less on administration. We are getting the limited dollars we have to the classrooms.

Ensuring Leadership and Supporting Teachers

Following the departure of Dr. Burns, we worked closely with Dr. Donna Hargens to serve as both Chief Academic Officer and Interim Superintendent.  We saw no exodus of senior leadership and teacher retention remains high. I wish to personally thank Dr. Hargens for her commitment to our community. I am proud that she will be staying on as our Chief Academic Officer as we embark on a new age of innovation in Wake schools.

We continued our districts long standing commitment to supporting teachers in their quest for National Board Certifications. This year for the first time we became the number one district in America for number of teachers holding this honor.

As a board we spent months in a national search to bring in new Superintendent, General Anthony Tata. Mr. Tata is a high caliber leader that has gone from West Point to Harvard, and from Ft. Bragg to commanding over 30,000 troops and 91 bases in Afghanistan.  He returned home as a leader in the D.C. Public schools where he was selected as 1 of only 62 Broad Superintendent Fellows in America since 2001. He has noted he will keep our system “laser focused on student achievement.” We are proud to bring him to Wake County.

After several years of declining academics in the district, I am confident that these adjustments will produce gains this school year and beyond. As a Board our commitment has remained first and foremost to student achievement. We also share a strong commitment to our tax-payers, families, and communities.

While we have accomplished much in just a little more than one year, we can and MUST do even better for our kids. We have challenging years ahead with continued budget shortfalls, but I remain honored and humbled to serve the great people of Wake County and look forward to continuing on behalf of ALL of our children over the next 3 years.

Together, we will ensure the best is yet to come.

John Tedesco

Wake County Board of Education

Representative District 2


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