Commentary

Tedesco and other gang of five members “vindicated”? Hardly

Christine Kushner

Christine Kushner

A new letter to the editor from Wake County school board chair Christine Kushner does a nice job of debunking the typically off-base claims of former school board member John Tedesco that appeared in a recent Raleigh News & Observer article.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tedesco is now claiming that he and his fellow conservative members who (along with former Superintendent and novelist A.J. Tata) tried so mightily to destroy Wake County’s longstanding and successful efforts to diversify its schools, have been vindicated by the current board’s decision not to institute yet another massive and disruptive reassignment of students since coming to power.

As Kushner writes:

“The current Wake County school board brought stability to a system that was in chaos under the leadership of former board member John Tedesco, who was widely quoted in your article.

Your piece did not highlight the resegregating effects of Tedesco’s 2011 countywide choice plan, which also broke the school system’s overextended transportation system. When the current board did away with Tedesco’s choice scheme, members did not uproot children from their school assignments the way Tedesco and his colleagues did in their 2010 and 2011 plans. Instead, the board instituted a ‘stay where you start’ policy to bring much-needed stability to families after several tumultuous years.

As for Tedesco’s embrace of community diversity, Wake County should accept that challenge and work toward more affordable and diverse housing throughout the county. That certainly would support diverse schools, which studies show are the ideal learning environments for children.

This current board has expanded magnets, which are based on principles of reducing socioeconomic isolation, and has sent resources to low-performing schools. The board and school system staff have engaged the community in student assignment plans that focus on stability, proximity and student achievement, and its work has focused on opening new schools.

Truth be told, the vast majority of reassignments pre-2011 occurred to open new schools, but that narrative is lost in the urban legend about diversity busing.

Richard Kahlenberg got it right: Wake County schools remain more integrated than other comparable school systems nationwide.

Our residents need to engage in a communitywide conversation to discuss what is best for children, and I as an individual would argue that integrated schools are indeed part of what is best for children – and communities.”

The bottom line: Despite remaining home to a system that is far above average, Wake County certainly does need to do more to promote diversity in its public schools. That the current leaders have chosen, however, not to plunge the county into yet another cycle of radical change and destructive conflict after the system barely survived four years of it under the previous majority hardly amounts to vindication of the old board’s policies. Sometimes public officials have to work with the mess they inherit and go about the business of cleaning it up thoughtfully and deliberately. Kushner and her colleagues deserve credit for adhering to such an approach.

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