— Susan London • email@example.com • April 2017
After another fight video at Rolesville High School surfaced March 13, parents took to social media to discuss their perceptions of problems at the school, prompting Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles to organize an impromptu meeting to allay concerns and solicit community input.
The video, which showed a fight in an exterior stairwell at the school and referenced a “fight club” among students, was posted on the Nextdoor app on March 13 by Darcee Ruble, who has a child at the school. It is unclear who took the video and on what date the fight occurred.
Eagles invited members of the Rolesville High School community, via the Nextdoor online forum, to Rolesville Town Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 16. At that gathering, Eagles and District 1 Wake County School Board representative Donald Agee facilitated a conversation about the video and parents’ concerns about discipline issues at the school. Rolesville Town Commissioner Michelle Medley joined the meeting at the halfway point. Other town and school board representatives were not present.
Approximately 30 people were present, and Eagles appealed for civility at the start. He said he wanted to talk about the problems he’d been hearing about and come up with solutions.
During the meeting, parents cited concerns about the environment at the school, including frequent fights, lack of respect for teachers, drugs and alleged gang presence.
“Every day there’s a lot of class time lost to misbehavior of children,” Ruble said.
Another parent added she felt very nervous sending her child to school there.
The severity of these issues and whether they are worse at Rolesville than anywhere else is difficult to gauge.
“This is not an isolated incident to the high school here in Rolesville. This is happening all over Wake County,” said Eagles, who also downplayed the alleged culture of gang activity among some students as nothing more than cliques but did acknowledge the challenge presented by the sheer size of the school.
Touching on recent discussions by Wake County commissioners, school board members and community leaders about the low ratio of counselors to students, Eagles and several parents expressed the opinion there simply aren’t enough adults present at Rolesville, particularly given the size and demographics of the student body.
With approximately 2,170 students enrolled this year, Rolesville High School is the largest in North Carolina. The base assignment spans a varied range of communities, from high-income suburban neighborhoods in and around Rolesville and Wake Forest to rural farm communities and lower-income households, complicating the ability to provide for the needs of all of the students.
According to the school’s website, there are six assistant principals, five counselors, a dean of students, two school resource officers and a security officer.
While that may seem adequate at a quick glance, Eagles and Medley insisted the school is understaffed and that the existing administrators are fully occupied throughout each day with not only their specific job responsibilities but also with monitoring students, hallways and stairwells.
“The staff isn’t sitting around having lunch in the teacher’s lounge,” Medley said.
Participants generally agreed on several potential solutions to the recent problems, mainly the addition or reallocation of existing video surveillance to the exterior hallways, more volunteers to walk the building and more counseling staff within the school. They repeatedly pressed both Eagles and Agee for an action plan to immediately address those issues.
“You’ve heard us, we’ve heard you and vice versa so … we need to know what is the next step,” said Demetrius McLeod, a parent of a rising ninth-grader.
Agee’s suggestions – securing additional funding from the school board for cameras and social workers – were longer-term solutions. He said his role was to relay feedback to the school board, and he emphasized the importance of parents attending and speaking at school board meetings. WCPSS funding is ultimately dictated by the state budget, and because next year’s school budget is currently being reviewed, he stressed that time was of the essence.
While participants understood some action items would take time, they kept returning to the question of what immediate steps could be taken to halt the fights and other bad behavior and who at the meeting was going to take responsibility for initiating the implementation of their suggestions.
Eagles, who is a proponent of parent and community presence in schools, said parent volunteers were one answer. He said Rolesville Principal Dhedra Lassiter told him she would love to have more parents help.
Audience members, however, said they were unfamiliar with a mentoring program available to potential volunteers that he referenced, and they seemed frustrated by the school administration’s failure to communicate a clear pathway for parents to get involved.
Medley suggested parents needed to be talking directly with Lassiter before escalating the issue. She said Lassiter was very open to hearing what parents had to say. Though Medley agreed what happens at the school is a community issue, the commissioner recognized “there is a chain of command” in how these issues should be handled, adding, “We don’t have those answers. She has those answers.”
Eagles said he would work with Lassiter to arrange a meeting between her and parents and possibly other school board members as well. He said he felt the meeting was productive in getting the conversation started, and he plans on holding more meetings to continue discussing solutions.