– Personal Blog of Raleigh photographer Steve Jackle » Personal blog of photographer, father, and technology geek Steve Jackle.

A Little School That Could– Hilburn Elementary


On this blog, you probably noticed that I am proud father for two wonderful girls.  One daughter is currently enrolled at Hilburn Drive Elementary. This is a school that has made such a positive impact on her.

Recently, there has been some planned shifting of students away from our beloved school which is already under-enrolled.  My wife is an active member of the Hilburn PTA board.  Various members of the PTA board seemed ready to give up on Hilburn.  Based on the recent trends at Hilburn, this was/is very understandable. It seemed that that larger Sycamore Creek and Leesville Elementary schools were gaining all the attention in our district over the smaller Hilburn school.

Even with this adversity, Jackie remained positive and optimistic.  She was not going to let our school go down without a fight. She sent the following email to the Wake County School Board members and Growth and Planning Dept. a couple of days ago.  It’s entirety can be found below. We found out today that our school board plans to look “under-enrolled” schools like Hilburn more closely -  See the 4:35 PM section. Obviously, I can not say it was Jackie’s letter that caused this action, but it seems coincidental that they received it the day before the meeting.   It goes to show that being positive and making your voice heard does matter.  Hilburn is on the School Board radar.   I can not remember a time that I have been more proud of my wife.

Here is the letter in it’s entirety

Dear Wake County School Board Members and Growth and Planning Dept,

First, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for your tireless efforts to make Wake County schools the best they can be for all students.  I know the role you play in this capacity can be a thankless one, and I would like to personally extend my appreciation as a parent.

I fear this letter may be a bit late as I know your next planning meeting is tomorrow, but I would very much like to tell you about the "Little School that Could".  Despite many challenges including staff and resource reductions, this school has maintained a standard of excellence and continues to provide exceptional education to its students, at least in my experience.  We had initially "opted out" of Wake County schools, deciding instead to enroll our now 3rd grade daughter in a Charter school for Kindergarten.  As she began her 1st grade year, it became clear that the Montessori pedegogy and Charter school in general were not working for her as she was reading well below grade level.  So we moved across town and enrolled her at Hilburn Drive Elementary (I’d like to note here that we chose Hilburn– we could have just as easily moved into Leesville or Sycamore Creek ES).

The results of the move exceeded even our most optimistic expectations.  Within four months our daughter was reading at grade level.  Last year, in 2nd grade, she began to excel in science, math and writing (3*’s and 4’s).  And almost as important as these academic achievements, she went from hating school to loving it.  The conclusion is indisputable:  the school made all the difference.

I’d like to share with you some background on Hilburn which you may already know.  In 2008, the principal and many staff members were transferred from Hilburn to open Sycamore Creek.  A large part of the student population was transferred as well.  In the fall of 2008, Hilburn opened its doors with a new principal and a much reduced student population.  Some additional nodes were bussed to Hilburn, so a good part of the student population was new as well.

In the years since, the student population has been continually reduced and many staff members have left, both primary and specials (two notable examples are the 1st grade teacher that brought our daughter up to grade level so quickly (truly an exceptional teacher), as well as the beloved music teacher who had been at Hilburn since its inception).  For this school year (2010-11), Hilburn barely made an enrollment of 500 students; the school’s capacity is just under 900.

As I’m sure you’re aware, reduced student population means reduced resources.  Most of Hilburn’s Specials teachers are part-time.  The school almost lost its PE teacher this year.  There is no science teacher, no foreign language teacher, and no technology teacher.  There are no Teacher’s Assistants for 1st and 2nd grade, and only shared TA’s for Kindergarten.  Compare this to the thriving campuses at Leesville and Sycamore Creek (LES is just 1/2 mile from Hilburn– literally walking distance, and Sycamore is about 3 miles away), and I think you can see the obvious disparity.

[On a side note, I was <embarrassingly> blissfully unaware of the challenges the school faced during the first year of our attendance.  It is a testament to the school’s faculty and staff that these issues were transparent to me.  It wasn’t until I joined the PTA Board that I fully understood the challenges.]

There’s also a trickle-down effect to less students and reduced resources.  Fewer students means that there is a smaller parent volunteer pool from which to draw, and less monetary/material parental support.  Also, it is especially difficult for some of the parents in the bussed nodes to contribute/participate in the school simply due to proximity (some students have a 45 minute bus ride, each way).  Many parents also see that the grass is greener in other pastures which affects morale as well as the school’s reputation.

Thus, I’m hoping you can understand my sadness and frustration upon reading the most recent recommendations by the Growth and Planning Committee which takes additional students away from Hilburn’s base population, while adding none.  I am concerned that the school has been overlooked and overshadowed by the larger voices of constituents from Leesville and Sycamore Creek.

I have heard many proposals for what to do with Hilburn: Combine its population with Leesville’s and split K-3 at Hilburn and 4-6 at Leesville; Add 6th grade to Hilburn (make it K-6) to address the overcrowding situation at Leesville Middle; Turn it into a 6th grade center (my least favorite– seems very costly and to only temporarily solve anything); and of course, the dream– turn Hilburn into an Academy or Magnet school. 

I personally don’t understand why the nodes for Leesville/Sycamore can’t be redrawn or redistributed to create more equity in this part of the county.  Of course, there is no obvious solution; if there were it would have been done already.  But I am putting my faith in you, the School Board, to weigh the options and to do what’s right for these children.

If there is any way that I may be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to ask.

With gratitude,
Jackie Lipkin Jackle
Hilburn Parent

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