Families express concerns about crowded western Cary schools

snagem@newsobserver.comFebruary 23, 2014 

— Some parents who live in western Cary say they are worried about a proposal to place enrollment limits on some elementary schools, a move that could push more students to already-crowded Highcroft Drive Elementary.

The Wake County school board delayed a vote on proposed school caps last week after board members heard from several families in western Cary.

Mills Park Elementary school already has an enrollment cap, in which new families who move to the school’s attendance zone are assigned elsewhere due to crowding. A new proposal would also place a cap on Alston Ridge Elementary.

Under the proposal, Highcroft Drive Elementary would be slated to enroll new students who would typically be assigned to Mills Park, as it has done in the past.

Now, some parents whose children attend Highcroft Drive say their school shouldn’t have to absorb students from other school zones, especially since Highcroft Drive already has mobile units.

“It’s just not fair, in my opinion, to make Highcroft suffer the burden of all the growth,” said parent Michelle Barrett, who has two children attending the school.

Highcroft Drive has more than 940 students, according to figures from the school system. The school is at nearly 115 percent of its capacity, the highest percentage of any elementary school in western Cary and Morrisville.

Highcroft Drive currently has nine temporary classrooms and is in the process of getting six more, according to school officials. That’s the most temporary classrooms of any elementary school in the area.

Temporary classrooms will allow Highcroft Drive to accommodate more growth and to absorb overflow students from Mills Park, Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment, told the school board during a recent work session.

“I was focusing on consistency for Mills Park families and Highcroft families,” she said.

New residential neighborhoods are slated to bring hundreds of new homes to western Cary in the coming years. Three subdivisions are in the works near Highcroft Drive, Evans said.

A new elementary school is set to open in 2016 in western Cary that will relieve crowding at Highcroft Drive and Mills Park, she said. Another is set to open in 2017 and should provide relief at Alston Ridge and Cedar Fork elementary schools.

In the meantime, some Highcroft parents say school leaders need to come up with a solution that doesn’t push more students into their school. The school board is expected to vote on the proposed enrollment limits March 4.

Will Lominack, who has two children who attend Highcroft Drive, told the school board last week that more temporary classrooms will reduce the amount of play space outside the school.

“It just seems like putting a modular classroom is just kind of a temporary solution to a bigger problem,” he said. “It seems like we’re putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery.”

School board member Susan Evans said Wake is “playing catch-up” after years of not building enough schools.

“I’m not in favor of capping any schools, I’m not in favor of overcrowding. I’m not in favor of modulars,” Susan Evans said. “But we have to deal with what we have to deal with.”

School leaders will likely have to consider converting Highcroft Drive into a multi-track year-round school for the 2015-16 school year to ease crowding, Susan Evans said. Currently, the school operates on a single-track year-round calendar.

“I just think that we’ll have to look at it very closely,” Susan Evans said.

She added: “We are trying our best to not have to do that.”

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

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