- 1 Background
- 2 2019-2020 Enrollment Proposal
- 3 2020-2021 Enrollment Proposal
- 4 Draft 1
- 5 Removal of Caps and Trailers
- 6 Overcrowding in the Salem Zone
- 7 Draft 2
- 8 The Broken Capping System
- 9 The Final Draft
- 10 Post-Final Draft
- 11 Conclusion
- 12 Useful Links
- 13 Contact
Ashley Woods is a small subdivision of 138 homes located just west of route 55 in western Cary. The first houses were built in 1993.
Until the 2020 school year, the neighborhood had been assigned to the Highcroft Drive Elementary and Mills Park Middle schools since both schools opened. While the calendars have changed several times between multi-track year-round, single-track year round, and traditional, the assignment to these schools had always been consistent.
There are approximately 80-100 school aged children that live in the neighborhood. The vast majority were attending Highcroft and Mills Park for K-8.
Across Green Level West road from Ashley Woods is an even smaller subdivision called the Overlook, as well as a handful of houses connected via Branton Drive. We’re not sure of the exact number of school-aged children in these neighborhoods, but it is very small.
2019-2020 Enrollment Proposal
In August of 2018, WCPSS released the first draft of the 2019-2020 enrollment proposal. This was a larger proposal, affecting many neighborhoods and residents throughout Wake County. The main driver behind the proposal was the opening of four new schools: Green Level High, Alston Ridge Middle, Parkside Elementary, and Southeast Raleigh Elementary. Ashley Woods was part of this reassignment, proposed to change elementary and middle schools to Green Hope Elementary and Davis Drive Middle, and high school to Green Level High. The assignment to Green Level High was expected, as the school is close in proximity to the neighborhood.
The main issue in this proposal was that the vast majority of students who attend Davis Drive Middle, go on to attend Green Hope High. Ashley Woods and Overlook/Branton would be the only students to move from DDMS to Green Level High. Being very small neighborhoods, resulted in a cohort of very few students to make the transition from middle school to high school.
A secondary issue was misleading reassignment maps. Below were the proposal maps for the Highcroft reassignment:
At first glance, it would appear that a very large portion of the Highcroft base zone is being reassigned. The reality is, the only residential neighborhoods in that entire shaded swath west of 55, are Ashley Woods and Outlook/Branton Drive. The rest is slated for commercial development – the entire area around the 540/Green Level West interchange is planned for the “Green Level Destination Center”, which we will talk about further in this document. At the end of the day, only 30-50 kids were actually being reassigned out of Highcroft and Mills Park via that particular area. Not much of a benefit when it comes to relieving overcrowding in schools that have ~950 and ~1700 students respectively.
At the end of a long draft process, assignment staff and the school board decided to reverse this portion of the enrollment plan (among others), and Ashley Woods was assigned back to our original schools for the 2019-2020 school year. However we were warned by our district 8 board member, Lindsay Mahaffey, to not get too comfortable as we would likely be up for reassignment again in the near future.
2020-2021 Enrollment Proposal
In October 2019, the enrollment proposal was released for the 2020-2021 school year (https://www.wcpss.net/Page/40938). This was a much smaller proposal, affecting “only” 1% of student population (approximately 1500 students). The main driver for this year’s proposal was the opening of two new schools: South Lakes Elementary in Fuquay-Varina, and Willow Spring High, also in Fuquay-Varina. Per the proposal website:
“The majority of proposed school assignment changes will be related to the opening of the two new schools in Fuquay-Varina, one in 2020 and one in 2021. Other components of the proposal are aimed at relieving some overcrowded schools, better utilizing under-enrolled schools, and improving transportation efficiency.”
“Proposal: Some students attending Highcroft Drive Elementary and White Oak Elementary would be assigned to Salem Elementary; middle school students in those same areas now attending Mills Park Middle would be assigned to Salem Middle.”
“Purpose: Reduces overcrowding at Highcroft Drive Elementary (112% projected capacity in 2020-21 with no changes), White Oak Elementary (116% projected capacity with no changes) and Mills Park Middle (98% projected capacity with no changes), while better utilizing Salem Elementary (85% projected capacity with no changes) and Salem Middle (81% projected with no changes), which are under-enrolled. Mills Park Middle has had an enrollment cap since 2014.”
As in the previous year’s proposal, Ashley Woods and Outlook/Branton were again singled out to be reassigned out of Highcroft and Mills Park. There was one other smaller neighborhood (Preserve at White Oak), which was also to be reassigned out of Mills Park Middle (and White Oak Elementary). This year our proposed K-8 schools were Salem Elementary in Apex, and Salem Middle also in Apex. These schools share a campus, and are approximately 3.6 miles from Ashley Woods. Here are the maps, very similar to the previous year, but with different destinations:
Not only was this a school change, but also a calendar change. The Salem schools are on year-round calendars, while Highcroft/Mills Park are on traditional. School changes are disruptive, but adding a calendar change increases that disruption significantly.
The traditional application schools set for Ashley Woods were Green Hope Elementary, and Apex Middle. Again an odd feeder pattern, as Green Hope Elementary students generally do not feed into Apex Middle.
As mentioned in the proposal overview, the stated main goals of this reassignment was to reduce overcrowding at Highcroft and Mills Park. We would soon find out that this reasoning would change several times, but more on that later.
Draft 1 Heat Maps
As in the previous year’s proposal, the shaded area being removed from Highcroft was misleading. As part of Draft 1, assignment staff included “heat maps” which showed rapid student population growth within 5 years in the area around Ashley Woods and the 540/Green Level West interchange:
This map is inaccurate for multiple reasons. For one, as mentioned above the more northern circles of red and orange are the area where the Green Level Destination Center is planned. The destination center is part of the “Green Level Special Planning Area” which is part of Cary’s larger 2040 plan. More information can be found here:
Map of the proposed destination center, shaded in brown:
As you can see, outside of Ashley Woods and Outlook/Branton, the entire remaining area of the shaded area in WCPSS’s reassignment map is slated for the commercial destination center or is already commercial. Here’s a quick map which breaks down the ACTUAL residential areas being reassigned (outined in purple):
When we questioned staff and the board via the online feedback forums and emails regarding the inaccuracy of the heat map, we were told that they were scheduling a meeting with the Cary planning department to look into it. Below was the reply from Matt Dees (forum moderator) after this meeting:
There are definite crowding concerns for schools in the western portion of the county. However his response did nothing to address the inaccurate heat maps which were specifically used in the draft. For further information we emailed the Cary Planning Department ourselves, and asked about the accuracy of the map and the plans for that specific area that the heat map calls out as high growth. The response we received was:
We are of the opinion that if the Town of Cary is planning for a destination center, then that is what will end up there. In fact they have already approved a re-zoning from low-density residential to commercial for a plot of land adjacent to Branton Drive, which will be an office building. They have also approved the Duke Medical building in the northwest quadrant of the 540/Green Level West interchange. It’s very clear that the town wants that area to be commercial. Yes, the destination center may have condos and or apartments as you’d see at similar destination centers like Park West for example, but the board/staff have themselves previously stated that generally those types of residences do not generate many students. Even if they did, is there any reason why the new residences couldn’t be assigned to the Salem Schools, while leaving Ashley Woods alone?
Removal of Caps and Trailers
At this point it was becoming more and more confusing as to what the actual goal of this reassignment was, as the entire area of reassignment from Highcroft consists of about 39 elementary aged students, and 15 or so middle school aged students. Since the remainder of the area is slated for commercial, we know they aren’t preventing much (if any) future growth from entering Highcroft or Mills Park. Our emails and posts to the forum inquiring about future growth in the Highcroft zone and how that would affect overcrowding, went unanswered. The Highcroft zone is very low-growth and almost entirely built out, so we could not figure out where the board/staff was expecting this growth to be. Staff was insistent that kids *had* to be removed from Highcroft, even if it was only 39 kids from a school of almost 1000, and 15 from a school of over 1700. The reasoning behind this was that Highcroft is overcrowded, and they wanted trailers removed. Another response from Matt Dees, confirmed this:
When asked if the reassignment would remove the cap at Highcroft, this was the response:
It doesn’t seem reasonable that removing 39 kids from an elementary school (6-7 students per grade), would have any impact on removing trailers, significantly reducing overcrowding, or removing caps. We would later find out that neither of these were actually happening.
On October 24th WCPSS hosted an open house at Salem Elementary, where they had various departments available to speak with (assignment, facilities, board members, etc). We spent quite a bit of time speaking with staff from student assignment, discussing our concerns regarding the inaccuracies mentioned above, and trying to get information regarding the reasoning behind the reassignment. When we asked the student assignment representative how many trailers would be removed as a result of this reassignment, he did not have the answer, nor did he know about removal of the cap. He directed us to the facilities representative for the trailer question – she was also unsure of the answer, and surprisingly wasn’t even sure how many trailers even existed at Highcroft.
It felt like we were getting further and further away from understanding the real reason for this reassignment. It was clear that no caps would be removed, no trailers would be removed, and there would be no significant impact on reducing overcrowding.
Overcrowding in the Salem Zone
Another concern that came up in Draft 1 was future overcrowding in Salem Elementary and Salem Middle, resulting in additional instability for Ashley Woods in the future. Via town development maps, it was discovered that there were upwards of 900 already approved new construction units within the Salem Elementary and Middle School zones. Western Apex is very rapidly growing area. WCPSS was taking Ashley Woods and moving us from a school zone that is finally starting to stabilize after many years of growth, to a zone that is in the midst of a boom. Being on the very northern edge of the proposed Salem zone, this would likely set us up for reassignment again in the near future, potentially back to right where we started (Highcroft and Mills Park). While the Salem schools were slightly under-utilized as of 2019, it was very clear that wouldn’t be the case for long. Shuffling very small amounts of kids from one overcrowded area to another is not efficient, nor is it fair to those small neighborhoods that constantly get targeted for reassignment.
When Draft 2 was released in November, it included a change for Ashley Woods. Our base elementary school was changed from Salem Elementary to Turner Creek Elementary. Our middle school remained at Salem Middle. This was a slightly better option due to proximity, as Turner Creek is only 1 mile from Ashley Woods. This added confusion though, since in Draft 1 staff said Turner Creek was not an option due to future development and overcrowding in the area, and they wanted to better utilize Salem Elementary.
Here was the new assignment map:
We still were not clear as to the actual reasoning behind the reassignment. There were many emails to board members and posts to the feedback forum with no responses or clarity. The board was saying “we think that a reduction of 39 students is significant, talk to assignment staff for specific answers”, and assignment staff was saying “we have been directed by the board to assign kids out of Highcroft”. Nobody could provide any real data that showed any actual outcome or impact from the reassignment.
The Broken Capping System
Highcroft and Mills Park are both capped schools. Towards the end of Draft 1 and into Draft 2, our neighborhood started looking into the capping system and how exactly it works. We were personally aware of several new residents that had been allowed into Highcroft under the cap, which was confusing since the claimed goal of the reassignment was to remove trailers and the caps. Our neighborhood decided to find out just how many new residents had been let into HIghcroft and Mills Park this school year, and the results were even more surprising than we expected. Approximately 70 (likely more as of this writing) new residents were let into Highcroft (while capped) in the 2019 school year alone, and approximately 150 into Mills Park. As a reminder, only 39 and 15 kids respectively were being moved out as a result of this years reassignment via Ashley Woods.
You’re probably asking yourself why, if Highcroft and Mills Park are in such desperate states of overcrowding, are so many new residents were being let into these schools while they were capped? Wasn’t the goal of this reassignment to reduce overcrowding, remove trailers, and remove caps? How can you accomplish any of these goals if you continually allow new residents to attend the schools? Why would new residents take precedence over established residents who attended the school prior to the cap?
It is also important to note that Highcroft’s cap overflow school is Turner Creek, the very school that Ashley Woods had been reassigned to. Turner Creek is also the calendar option for Highcroft. What this means is that there are already buses that go to every single neighborhood assigned to Highcroft that they’re letting these new residents in from. So the obvious question here is, why aren’t they sending new residents to Turner Creek (where they should be going anyway since Highcroft is capped), instead of reassigning established residents who have been attending the schools for years? Isn’t the whole point of a cap to reduce enrollment while putting the burden on new residents?
We continued to press for answers from our district board member, but were unsuccessful. We were able to get a response from board chair (at the time) Jim Martin. These were his responses to our questions regarding trailers and caps:
Once again, we were confused. If the goal is to reduce overcrowding and trailers, why are we letting new residents in until we hit the cap number? Shouldn’t we be overflowing to the schools that the board/staff claim are underutilized, and we already have neighborhood busing to? Once Ashley Woods is reassigned out, will they just fill those spaces with new residents and keep the cap number the same?
To add to the confusion, we retrieved (via public record) the following email thread which shows the facilities/planning office stating that removing trailers was not a main driver for the reassignment, and the goal was to better utilize Salem Elementary (read from bottom up):
Clearly there is a lot of confusion here, but if the goal was in fact to move students into Salem Elementary, why did they reassign us out of Salem Elementary and into Turner Creek in Draft 2?
At this point things just weren’t checking out.
The Final Draft
On December 3rd, the final draft was presented to the board for vote and approval. While changes are rarely made after the second draft (we were told this by Lindsay Mahaffey), we felt that we had provided enough hard evidence and facts to the board that they would at least discuss the change of our base schools back to Highcroft and Mills Park. This was not the case, and the new assignment plan was approved unanimously.
However, there was one change made at the board work session, and that was to our traditional application schools (Green Hope Elementary and Apex Middle). Lindsay Mahaffey suggested to the rest of the board that Ashley Woods’ traditional application elementary school be changed to Baucum Elementary in Apex. Baucum is about 5.5 miles from Ashley Woods, and a 20-25 minute drive during morning Apex traffic.
Another board member (Chris Heagarty) questioned Ms. Mahaffey on this change, and asked whether anyone in Ashley Woods would be surprised by it. Ms. Mahaffey surprisingly replied with an absolute “no, we have talked”. This was not true. We are not aware of anyone in the neighborhood who had talked to Ms. Mahaffey about this change, including those neighbors who were most involved in the feedback process. Our neighborhood had no opportunity to give any feedback regarding this last minute change.
The exchange can be viewed here (direct link to appropriate timestamp):
Our neighborhood had lost the battle, but still did not have the answers to our questions. We still had questions about the underlying reasons for the reassignment of Ashley Woods, and why the capping system was not functioning as intended. We also wanted to know why there was a last minute change to our traditional application schools, without any notification to us. After some email exchanges between neighbors and board members, we were able set up a meeting with Lindsay Mahaffey to discuss these concerns. We requested that another board member attend as well, as we had lost our trust in Ms. Mahaffey.
On 12/11 we met with Ms. Mahaffey, Roxie Cash, and Bill Fletcher. We discussed our concerns over the new traditional application schools, and our lack of answers as to why Ashley Woods was being reassigned out in favor of new residents being let in while the schools are capped. At the time it seemed like a relatively productive meeting, and Ms. Mahaffey promised to get answers for us soon. One interesting thing we did learn, was that the reason for switching us from Green Hope Elementary to Baucum was that there was no room in Green Hope Elementary for transfers. It’s hard to understand why it took the board and staff three months to realize that there wouldn’t be any room at Green Hope for us. It makes you question how much of an understanding there really is from the board and staff when it comes to these reassignments.
By 12/19 we had not heard anything back, so we followed up and were told that they were “working on things” and would get back to us likely in January after the holidays. On 1/7 we heard back from Ms. Mahaffey stating that they had met with student assignment prior to the holiday break, and were expecting answers at a meeting later that week. She said she would follow up on that Friday 1/10. By 1/17 we had still not heard anything back, and again followed up. When we finally heard back, Ms. Mahaffey requested that we have another meeting, and it was scheduled for Monday 1/20.
The meeting on 1/20 was not productive. The only answer that Ms. Mahaffey could provide was that even though many new residents are being let into the schools under the caps, it’s really the K-3 mandates that determines who stays and who goes. While we understand the limits of the K-3 mandates, unless you can give actual data and numbers that show which grades new residents are being let into and which grades Ashley Woods kids are being taken out of, then it’s just speculation. This is not something they have been able to provide, and we are aware of several K-3 students who have been let into Highcroft this year and last. She also said that the main goal of the Ashley Woods (and Preserve at White Oak) reassignments were to better utilize Salem Middle school (facilities/planning had said Salem Elementary, and the board had said it was to remove trailers). By now the supposed reason for the reassignment had changed so many times, that our heads were starting to spin. It was becoming very clear that nobody REALLY knew the underlying reason, but SOMEONE had decided at some point that it had to happen. The question remains, why?
Unfortunately Ms. Mahaffey did not have answers for us on 1/20 as to why Ashley Woods residents were being removed, while new residents were being allowed into Highcroft/Mills Park and not sent to the overflow schools of Turner Creek/Salem Middle (where Ashley Woods was reassigned to). Her response was “That’s a good question”, and she claimed she would get that answer. She also suggested that we have another meeting with herself, a representative from the Office of Student Assignment, and Ashley Woods neighbors the following week. She would get back to us by the end of the week with next steps.
On Thursday the 24th, Ms. Mahaffey requested a phone call with one of the Ashley Woods residents. During the call, the Ashley Woods resident asked if the reassignment could be reversed due to the inconsistencies and lack of data backing it, and she replied that it would not happen due to the schools being capped. It was explained that Ashley Woods residents are currently enrolled in these schools and most have lived in their homes prior to the caps being implemented. She said she “understood”, but it was unlikely it would be reversed.
Also during this phone call it was again asked why so many new residents are being allowed into these schools while they are capped. For Highcroft, her answer was again “K-3 Mandates”. Again, without data that shows what grades new residents are being allowed into, and what grades Ashley Woods students are being assigned out of, we don’t consider this to be a valid reason to allow 70+ capped out students into a school during a single school year, while reassigning 39 out under the guise of overcrowding.
As for Mills Park, Ms. Mahaffey stated that when Alston Ridge Middle opened the year before, this allowed them to recall ~200 (even more than the ~150 we had thought) capped out students back to Mills Park. Again, why are they reassigning ~15 Ashley Woods kids out of Mills Park due to “overcrowding”, while recalling 200 students that were capped out, and also allowing in new residents?
When asked why so few new residents were being sent to overflows, Ms. Mahaffey said “well, then those new residents would be in the same situation that you are in”. Surprisingly, it had to be explained to her that new residents move into a home knowing that their base school is capped, and Ashley Woods residents had moved into their homes prior to the caps.
At the end of the call it was agreed that she would follow up yet again with student assignment to try to get us a better understanding of why this was happening. We were told she would get back to us by Friday 1/31, and the in-person meeting we were supposed to have with Student Assignment was unfortunately cancelled. After several ignored emails and phone calls, she finally emailed a different neighbor back on 2/4 with no additional answers to our questions.
At our 1/20 meeting with Ms. Mahaffey, one of the questions we asked was whether the cap number at Highcroft would be reduced in the 2020-2021 school year in order to reflect the 39 students that were reassigned out via Ashley Woods. She assured us that the cap number would be lowered, and that our seats would not just be replaced with new residents.
On 2/5 the 2020 capping recommendations were approved by the board, and did not include a reduction in the Highcroft cap number. In other words, the seats freed by the reassignment of Ashley Woods will be filled with new residents. Ms. Mahaffey has not responded to any of our inquiries about why this went against what she told us.
The 2020 capping recommendations can be seen here:
At the 2/12 facilities committee meeting, it was announced that Baucom Elementary was planned to be relocated to a new elementary school in Holly Springs (over 10 miles from Ashley Woods) in 2023 while Baucom is renovated. Now Ashley Woods residents with younger children who choose to go with the traditional option, will need to travel from Cary to Holly Springs for a year. Again a severe lack of planning and transparency on the board’s part.
Looking back at the 2018 facilities trailer plan, it’s apparent there were no plans to remove any trailers at Highcroft through 2025. Remember that the board said all along that the goal of this reassignment was to remove trailers at Highcroft.
After a member of Ashley Woods met with the Director of Student Assignment, they were told that the reassignment of Ashley Woods was directed specifically by the Board. We followed up again recently with the Board to find out who could answer our questions, and as of today (two weeks later) have received no response.
Since the last update, there have been additional conversations with Board members and Student Assignment, but unfortunately no answers to the specific questions we have.
The four specific questions we have asked for months are:
1. The stated goals of our reassignment this year was to relieve overcrowding at Highcroft/Mills Park, and remove trailers at Highcroft. If overcrowding is so desperate, why were 70+/150+ new residents allowed into those schools while capped in the 2019/2020 school year, many of whom are in the K-3 grades under mandate? That’s a lot of students to let in, when only 39/15 respectively were moved out from our neighborhood due to claims of overcrowding. What is the point of caps if for the most part they aren’t implemented? Isn’t part of the reason for caps to put the burden on new residents, not neighborhoods that have attended those schools since they opened?
2. We were told by Ms. Mahaffey that the cap number would definitely be lowered at Highcroft in the 2020/2021 school year, in order to ensure that our reassignment actually helped with overcrowding. This did not happen, and our seats will just be replaced with new residents because of this. Again if overcrowding is so dire and the goal is to remove trailers, why wasn’t the cap number reduced?
3. We were told that the main goal of our reassignment was to remove trailers at Highcroft. The facilities trailer plan states that there are no plans to remove any trailers at Highcroft through 2025. If that’s the case, why the sudden urgency in moving us out to remove trailers?
4. It’s obvious that Highcroft and Mills Park are still overcrowded even after the reassignment of our extremely small neighborhood, and that trailers will not be removed any time soon. What plans do you have for the coming enrollment plan, and subsequent plans to make sure that you can actually accomplish these claimed goals?
Unfortunately nobody from the Board or Student Assignment has been able to provide answers to these questions. We did receive a written response from Student Assignment which provided a very high level overview of the re-assignment process, but did not address any of the four questions above which were specifically asked.
On 7/1 we received an email with answers to the above questions compiled by staff:
- Even though schools are capped, some students may be called back to fill out the class so that a teacher does not get displaced. (Ex. If a school has hired five 1st grade teachers based on previous year/projected numbers for next year, but only 75 students are enrolled in first grade as of the start of school, then they could call back 5-15 students in order to max out the classes and keep the teacher position). We use capping and reassignment to continue to reduce the numbers at a school over time. Your neighborhood is in the Southernmost part of the base attendance area and it is closest to schools that have capacity. This is the reason that your neighborhood was chosen to reassign. Even if there are 39/15 students today, that does not mean that next year those numbers will remain the same. Often in high demand schools such as these, residents without children often sell their homes to families with children so that they can attend these schools. Our primary goal is to reduce the number of residents — not just students at the school.”
2. “The enrollment numbers at Highcroft ES for the past couple of years are: Projected 2020-21 (865), 2019-20 (921), 2018-19 (985).
- Based on our 6/29/20 data for the 2020-21 (FUR) Facility Utilization Report, we were reflecting 925, we have 15 capacity trailers which would put us at 114.5% crowding. If that number reduces to 825 we would be in much better shape.
- Based on the 2019-20 FUR we were at 921, we had 15 capacity trailers which had us at 114.0% crowding with trailers.
- Based on the 2018-19 FUR we were at 985, we had 15 capacity trailers which had us at 121.9% crowding with trailers.”
3. ”Based on the trailer master plan, we are scheduled to remove six (6) trailers for the 2025-26 school year (9 remaining). The cost of moving trailers has greatly impacted our ability to reduce the numbers at many schools. The CIP increased the yearly amount for trailer moves to ~$2.7 million, but right now it costs a little over $500,000 dollars just to move four (4) trailers. There is a district team that has had to re-prioritize the planned moves that are in design now, and will re-evaluate all of the upcoming priorities for trailer moves. “
4. “We have been reassigning students out of Mills Park MS for the past couple of years. Though the size of your neighborhood is small (39 ES students today does not seem like a lot), but that is potentially two (2) teacher positions. We must consider the other homes in the neighborhood that do not have children today, but possibly will in the future. We make every effort to minimize the number of affected students each year that we reassign so that we do not move more students than necessary. Each year we will reevaluate the affect and make additional moves if necessary. These moves are based on numbers we know today and can project the way things are today. However, once changes are made, existing and new parents make new choices and we are unable to predict this. Therefore, we will use the next year’s projections to reassess the impact and work from there. This area will continue to be under review for reassignment.
In addition, we have the most capped schools in the district in this area and it still is one of our higher growth areas. The non-capped schools are being capped as well because of the overflow students being assigned to them. We are at the point where overflow schools are not proximate and this puts additional pressure on the district (transportation costs) in order to accommodate proximity and stability for many families.”
On 7/6, our neighborhood responded with the below follow-up questions, and are awaiting a reply:
1. Can you explain how you will get to your goal of 825 students at Highcroft in 2020/2021 when the 2019/2020 enrollment was 925? A reminder that there were around 40 students reassigned out via our neighborhood and Branton Drive/Outlook.
2. Unless we’re misunderstanding, I don’t think you answered the question as to why the cap number was not reduced following our reassignment. Since the cap number was not reduced, we would assume that the data manager will keep filling seats with new residents until the cap number is hit. We’re not understanding how you plan to hit your enrollment goals, and not understanding why the cap number wouldn’t always be reduced when students are reassigned out due to overcrowding.
3. When you say 15 trailers at Highcroft, how do you come to that number? As far as we know there are 2 large modulars, and 3 individual trailers. Is 15 the number of classrooms?
4. Could you please provide a link to the updated trailer master plan that shows (6) trailers being removed at Highcroft in 2025/2026? We were only able to find a trailer plan through 2024/2025. Again, could you explain where the (6) comes from? Is that classrooms or trailers? Will this remove the modulars that sit on instructional space that the Board is very worried about?
5. Throughout this process our neighborhood suggested letting our current students age out through Highcroft/Mills Park, while changing the base assignment of the neighborhood so that new residents would attend Turner Creek/Salem. Given that there are no plans to remove any trailers until 2025/2026, why wouldn’t that have been a perfectly reasonable solution? This way you prevent students from having to change schools and calendars, while still being able to prevent those new families you are concerned about from being able to enroll at Highcroft/MP. We fail to see why this wasn’t feasible, especially when new residents continue to be allowed into the capped schools from other neighborhoods. But we were continuously told “no way”.
On 7/14 we received answers from student assignment/facilities on the above questions. Their answers are in red:
Can you explain how you will get to your goal of 825 students at Highcroft in 2020/2021 when the 2019/2020 enrollment was 925? A reminder that there were around 40 students reassigned out via our neighborhood and Branton Drive/Outlook. I am not sure where 825 comes from. Our projected number is 865 for 2020-21. The process of decreasing an overcrowded school is a phased, gradual process.
Unless we’re misunderstanding, I don’t think you answered the question as to why the cap number was not reduced following our reassignment. Since the cap number was not reduced, we would assume that the data manager will keep filling seats with new residents until the cap number is hit. We’re not understanding how you plan to hit your enrollment goals, and not understanding why the cap number wouldn’t always be reduced when students are reassigned out due to overcrowding. Each year we are working to reduce the number of classes. Schools are not mandated to hit their cap number each year. They just work to fill out the classes they have allotted.
When you say 15 trailers at Highcroft, how do you come to that number? As far as we know there are 2 large modulars, and 3 individual trailers. Is 15 the number of classrooms? 15 is the total number of classrooms within trailers. It includes the singles and the modulars (multiple classroom) units.
Could you please provide a link to the updated trailer master plan that shows (6) trailers being removed at Highcroft in 2025/2026? We were only able to find a trailer plan through 2024/2025. The trailer master plan will have to be revisited as the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) group examines updating the prioritization and time frames for all future trailer moves due to cost. There has been a significant escalation of cost within the past 6 months. With the recent reductions to the CIP, this is a work in progress at this time. Therefore, although we are showing the removal of 6 classrooms in 2025-26, it may not be possible. Again, could you explain where the (6) comes from? Is that classrooms or trailers? 6 classrooms in a modular trailer unit. Will this remove the modulars that sit on instructional space that the Board is very worried about? Since one modular unit is owned and one is leased, we would typically try to remove the leased unit first. This will allow for more space for open play.
Throughout this process our neighborhood suggested letting our current students age out through Highcroft/Mills Park, while changing the base assignment of the neighborhood so that new residents would attend Turner Creek/Salem. Given that there are no plans to remove any trailers until 2025/2026, why wouldn’t that have been a perfectly reasonable solution? This way you prevent students from having to change schools and calendars, while still being able to prevent those new families you are concerned about from being able to enroll at Highcroft/MP. We fail to see why this wasn’t feasible, especially when new residents continue to be allowed into the capped schools from other neighborhoods. But we were continuously told “no way”. The removal of trailers ties back to the costs I believe. We were planning on removing them over time, but the costs skyrocketed. With the current crowding at both Highcroft and Mills Park MS so high, and the growth within their base areas so high, we chose to reassign the neighborhoods in the south since they are most proximate to schools that had available seats. We offer grandfathering, however, this does not allow for all existing students to remain. The Board, and staff, were not willing to make an exception for this neighborhood to have different grandfathering rules than the rest of the entire school district. We offered calendar application schools with available seats so that this neighborhood could remain on the same calendar.
A couple important things to note here. We still do not feel a sufficient answer was given as to why the cap number was not lowered. We feel that when students are reassigned out under the guise of overcrowding/trailers, that the cap number should ALWAYS be lowered in order to ensure that those seats don’t turn around and get filled with new residents (which they will). A data manager will always allow as many students into the school as possible, as Student Assignment and the Board have both claimed that it’s “inefficient to cap students out”. Therefore our reassigned seats will get filled with new residents, which makes us question what the real motive behind this reassignment was. A reminder that over 70 new residents were allowed into Highcroft this year under the cap, and 39 reassigned out via our neighborhood. With the cap number the same, there’s no reason to believe our seats won’t be filled. The only way to prevent that is to lower the cap number.
Also surprising is the fact that facilities was unable to produce a master trailer plan for 2025/2026, even though they originally claimed that the plan stated they would start being removed in those years. Even more surprising is that they have now backtracked that, and state that no trailers are likely to be removed even in 2025/2026, because somehow in the past 6 months (since the enrollment plan was approved), it’s apparently become more expensive to remove a trailer than it is to keep it and maintain it. It’s becoming more and more of our opinion that there were never any plans to remove trailers at all, even though that’s what we were told all along was the reason for our reassignment. Once again, things like this make us question even more what the real motive of the reassignment was.
On 10/7 we received word from the Director of Student Assignment that there will be no reassignments for the 2021/22 school year. This is surprising because the overcrowding was supposedly so dire that they HAD to reassign our neighborhood to “remove caps” and “remove trailers from instructional space” (neither happened). So it would seem obvious that there should be additional reassignments this coming year in order for them to actually move toward their claimed goals. This however, is not happening – why?
The 2021 Capped Schools Report has been released, and the cap number at Highcroft has still not been lowered. The board voted to approve, even after our neighborhood questioned Linsday Mahaffey as to why new residents continue to be let into the school when overcrowding was supposedly so dire. No change either with trailer planning, still no plans to remove any trailers until at least 2025, likely later.
An interesting note on the Capping report is the crowding percentages at Highcroft and Turner Creek. Highcroft is at 100% crowding with trailers, Turner Creek is at 99% crowding with trailers (essentially the same). Across from Turner Creek there are currently 60 townhouses being built, and another 40 are up for approval. This will likely tip the scale and actually make Turner Creek more crowded than Highcroft, especially since the Highcroft zone is extremely low growth, and may actually be decreasing as far as school enrollment goes.
So the question remains – why is overcrowding so urgent at Highcroft, but not Turner Creek? Why didn’t the school board listen to the parents that live in the area who warned them of this? Was the reassignment really about overcrowding and enrollment numbers, or is there another reason behind it that the public isn’t privy to?
Link to 2021 Capping report:
The annual Facilities Utilization Report has come out, and Turner Creek is now more overcrowded than Highcroft (119% versus 103%). The FUR can be found here:
After speaking with the Office of Student Assignment, we were informed that there are a significant number of kids at Turner Creek who have been capped out of Olive Chapel Elementary, which will likely be partially relieved when Apex Friendship Elementary opens.
While the overcrowding may be slightly inflated due to the above, even without those kids the overcrowding percentages are similar. The problem is Turner Creek is a rapidly growing zone, and Highcroft is fully built out with many kids aging out. We told the school board this from the beginning, but were ignored.
We have taken the time to write this summary with the goal of making the general public more aware of what goes on behind the scenes of a “typical” WCPSS neighborhood reassignment. Many people (thankfully) are not affected by reassignments, but we think that it’s important for people to understand exactly how they are handled by the board and staff. We think it is important that the board and staff operate in a transparent manner, and reassign students for the correct reasons. We question whether or not this was the case with our neighborhood.
We still don’t have the answers to determine if this reassignment was done for the right reasons, but we do feel that there has been a lack of transparency, and dishonesty among some board and staff members.
2020-2021 Enrollment Proposal Main Page: https://www.wcpss.net/Page/40938
Draft 1 Parent Feedback Forum (has since been disabled since writing): https://wcpss.granicusideas.com/discussions/proposed-school-assignment-changes-for-2020-21-and-2021-22/topics/proposed-assignments-from-highcroft-drive-elementary-white-oak-elementary-and-mills-park-middle-to-salem-elementary-and-salem-middle
Draft 2 Parent Feedback Forum (has since been disabled since writing): https://wcpss.granicusideas.com/discussions/draft-2-of-the-2020-21-and-2021-22-enrollment-proposal/topics/proposed-assignments-from-highcroft-drive-elementary-to-turner-creek-elementary-and-mills-park-middle-to-salem-middle