Wake school board assigns ‘spot nodes’ for western Cary neighborhood

snagem@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2014 

— Families who move into one new subdivision in western Cary won’t be assigned to the nearest elementary and middle school as part of an effort to ease overcrowding.

The Wake County school board agreed Tuesday to assign students in the Southerlyn subdivision to Turner Creek Elementary and Salem Middle. The neighborhood is in the attendance zones of Highcroft Drive Elementary and Mills Park Middle, but those schools are over capacity.

The board also OK’d reassignments for two neighborhoods in Wake Forest and Raleigh.

The change is another way the school system is trying to handle crowded schools in western Cary, which has seen much growth. But it’s unclear whether other new subdivisions will also be placed under “spot nodes,” which target new housing developments for reassignment as a way to reduce the impact on families who already live in the area.

School leaders say they will monitor the situation and recommend changes if schools lack sufficient space.

“It will be one of the various tools that we have to exercise, and in each situation it will be different,” said school board member Susan Evans, who represents western Cary.

Two people urged the school board Tuesday to keep Southerlyn’s original school assignments.

Mevan Jayasooriya said he and his family chose to build a home in Southerlyn west of N.C. 540 because of the schools. He suggested the school assign students to Davis Drive elementary or middle schools instead, or to switch school calendars to make more space.

“There are better options or more equitable options that you can consider,” Jayasooriya said.

Luyang Liang said the reassignment won’t make much of a difference anyway, because only about 10 families live in Southerlyn now. The subdivision, expected to be completed in 2016, is set to have more than 100 homes, according to the school system.

“We think it’s very bad news for our kids because they have their friends and neighbors around them and apparently they can’t be their schoolmates,” Liang said. “It’s bad for their after-school activities.”

Wake used spot nodes from 1996 to 2008, and the practice gave some new developments different school assignments from neighboring communities. Families who moved into new subdivisions often complained.

More than a dozen new subdivisions are in the works in western Cary, according to school officials.

Cary’s elected leaders have questioned whether western Cary is growing too quickly for the number of school seats available. The area has seen several new townhome communities.

Parents at Highcroft Drive Elementary School complained earlier this year that the school was too crowded. After hearing concerns, the school board decided that Highcroft won’t serve as an overflow school for Mills Park Elementary.

Highcroft has more than 940 students and is at nearly 115 percent of its capacity, so an influx of new students from Southerlyn likely would have put a strain on the school’s facilities.

Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment for Wake schools, told the school board earlier this month that real-estate agents have been calling and asking where families who move to Southerlyn will be assigned.

“We’ve been knowing these developments were coming,” Laura Evans said of new subdivisions in western Cary. “We’ve been planning for them.”

She continued: “They’re not all happening tomorrow. ... We have a construction plan.”

A new elementary school in western Cary is set to open in 2016, and there are plans for another elementary school. Susan Evans said she hopes that school will open in 2017.

Susan Evans said she and school board member Bill Fletcher, who also represents parts of Cary, recently met with Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and some Cary council members to talk about growth and schools.

Growth is inevitable, she said, and school officials could consider ways to manage crowded schools, including spot nodes, capped enrollments and traditional and year-round calendars.

“I think that will be a problem in west Cary for some years to come,” Susan Evans said of growth.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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