NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Community Relations Advisory Committee for New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington issued a letter to county commissioners, city council and the New Hanover County Schools Board of Education Wednesday outlining nine recommendations to diversify schools and repair damage they believe was caused, in part, by a policy adopting the ‘neighborhood schools’ model for districts ten years ago.
The letter, signed by chairwoman Evelyn Bryant, reads in part:
“This policy has been disastrous for several schools concentrated in the downtown area. While the neighborhood schools districting policy created schools outside the city with almost no diversity—some with less than 2.5% African-American enrollment—downtown schools are largely filled with minority and disadvantaged children.”
As shown below, the committee is requesting nine actions to be taken immediately and over the coming months and years to balance diversity among the district.
“For me, it goes back to equity and equality for all, ” Bryant said. “We live in a great city, great county and I think that not only should our county flourish in a system built for everyone, but our school system should also.”
The recommendations include creating a universal pre-k program to help prepare kids for kindergarten, an incentive program to encourage teachers to stay at or transfer to schools with the greatest numbers of free/reduced lunch and minority students, and creating a redistricting plan with the goal of no more than 55% of children at any school qualifying for free/reduced lunch.
“Neighborhood schools in its purest sense will never work in New Hanover County because if everyone went to the school that is closest to them, numerous schools would be over-crowded and then others would be way under enrollment” said committee member Scott Whisnant. “So, the question is not whether you have to bus some kids to the school not closest to their home. The question is who you bus?”
He says he and others predicted exactly what’s happened ten years ago when the neighborhood schools model was implemented. Their research found at one school, less than 5% of students were found to be ‘kindergarten ready.’
“I’m not advocating that we just re-draw the district lines, throw some kids from here to there and call it a day," he said. "Integration takes a lot more intentional work than that and I think schools will tell you that and our communities will tell you that.”
Another school has fallen from being in the top 15% in the state to the bottom 10% as measured by state testing, teacher to student ratios and other metrics.
“This will take a generation to change a culture," Whisnant said. "There’s some things that can change right now. We can certainly educate ourselves about what this problem is and we can certainly start to address some of the superficial things such as some district lines, some teacher assignments, funding, those kinds of things and it’ll take a while for the community to get behind these schools in the way they should and it’s going to take a commitment from everyone but it can start right now. COVID or no COVID. We cannot wait and let another generation of children get left behind because of where there parents had to send them to school. That shouldn’t happen to any child in New Hanover County.”
School Board member Stefanie Adams told WECT they received the letter about an hour before their meeting on Wednesday and that the board has not yet discussed it. She also said she appreciates the committee’s dedication to driving positive change in the community and she’s open to having their findings presented to the entire board, preferably in early 2021 when the new board is seated with its four new members following the election.