LUMBERTON — About 1,400 students have transferred out of their districts and to other schools since the beginning of the current school year — and three county schools have received 27 percent of the incoming students.
According to data provided by the central office of the Public Schools of Robeson County, Prospect Elementary School had the highest net gain of 136 students — 151 transferring in and 15 transferring out; Tanglewood Elementary followed with a net gain of 122 — 129 students transferring in and seven transferring out; and Lumberton Senior High was next with a net gain of 73 students — 109 students transferring in, and 36 students transferring out.
The county Board of Education got an earful on Sept. 11 from parents who said that Tanglewood’s classrooms were overcrowded — and people who made comments on the story on The Robesonian’s website repeatedly suggested the problem was the ease with which students transferred to that school.
“If we have another increase in student population next year like we did last year, we would have nowhere to put them,” said Angela Bono-Severy, president of Tanglewood ’s PTA. “In the last four years we have increased our student population … and have had no corresponding increases in classroom space.”
Walter Jackson, assistant superintendent for the county schools, said that Prospect Elementary, Tanglewood and Lumberton High School all get “very high request rates.”
According to county policy, a request for a transfer may be approved if significant health problems may be better accommodated at another school; if concerns are made about the safety of the child or others in the school; if the child’s sibling already attends another school; if legal matters arise or if a caretaker is gravely ill or incarcerated. Also addressed in the transfer policy are “extreme or unusual circumstances” that may affect the student’s “academic achievement or behavior at school” — a circumstance that is classified by the board as being a “hardship.”
“The main requests come from child-care concerns,” Jackson said. “We try to err on the side of safety for children … the child may not have after-school care so it becomes an issue for the parents.”
Transfer requests first go to the principal of the targeted shcool. If they are not approved, appeals can be made to the Board of Education, where they are handled in closed session. Mike Smith, chairman of the Board of Education, said the board has not set a cap on the number of transfers for a single school. According to state requirements, the maximum class size for kindergarten through third grade classrooms is 24; fourth through ninth grades can have up to 29 students; and grades 10th through 12th can have 32.
Smith said that while class sizes of up to 27 at Tanglewood Elementary and up to 29 at Lumberton Senior High have been influenced by the number of transfer requests, they are not “the single issue, by any means” and that the district may be growing as well.
“Lumberton is the county seat,” Smith said. “A lot of people come from outside areas like Fairmont, Rowland and Pembroke to work in Lumberton so a lot of times it’s more convenient for parents who work in Lumberton to have their child nearby.”
Smith couldn’t explain why so many parents request that their children be transferred to Prospect Elementary, which, according to school officials, has class sizes of up to 32 students, but he said that a concern other than hardship may be “at the back of their minds.”
“Like myself, and anyone who is a parent, they want what’s best for their child,” Smith said. “If they perceive that a particular school does better than another that may influence their reason.”
According to end-of-grade test results from the 2011-2012 school year, Prospect students scored sixth in the county in math proficiency, ninth in reading and seventh in science. The school ranked No. 1 in seventh-grade math with 85.7 proficiency and in fifth-grade science with 93.3 proficiency.
Tanglewood ranked No. 1 in county elementary schools for overall proficiency at 88.7 percent; Lumberton High School ranked fourth in the county overall, with an 80.1 percent proficiency rate.
Rowland Middle School and Union Chapel, other schools whose proficiency rate was ranked near the top, did not receive a high number of transfers. Rosenwald Elementary, with 76, had the highest number of students transferring out. According to composite testing data, the school ranked the lowest overall in last year’s proficiency tests with 49.2 percent of students testing at grade level.
Sara Clark, spokesman for the state Board of Education, said transfer policies are left to the discretion of the county boards of education and are “handled completely at the local level.”
“The state does not have any recommended policy,” she said.
Valerie Newton, public information officer for Bladen County schools, said that the county also has a transfer policy that allows for hardship, including being before- and after-school care for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Parents would have to show evidence that they have no other option available in current school district,” she said. “But we generally don’t turn a child away. If they want to come to school in a particular district and in a specific school, we’re glad to have them.”
Saundra McNeill, student assignment manager for Cumberland County schools, said that transfer approvals “depend on the demographics of the schools they are requesting.”
“We firstly have to ensure that we are not putting too many students into a school that cannot accommodate them,” she said.
Jackson also said that as crowding grows as an issue at several schools and mobile units have been put in place, the board has “to look and see what it is feasible to do when it comes to honoring requests.”
Jackson said that if the transfers were not approved, the board “would be concerned about what the child would do after school.”
“We’re always concerned about the children,” he said.