Redistricting considered for three Anne Arundel elementary schools

Anne Arundel parents, teachers and administrators filled Central Elementary School's gym this week to hear county schools specialist Chuck Yocum speak about the system's plans to redistrict Central, Davidsonville and Mayo elementary schools. After a lengthy and engaging question-and-answer session, Yocum said he was surprised to see that parents didn't respond with raised eyebrows and voices.

"This has been one of the funnest [redistricting] meetings I've had," said Yocum, who oversees student demographic planning. "There have been great questions. Everyone's been nice."

Those comments were met with reminders from the crowd that it was the first in a series of meetings on redistricting, often a hot-button topic with parents. Members of the audience assured him that as more is learned about the school system's hopes to alter enrollment at the three schools, this era of good feeling might come to an end.

But Yocum is accustomed to objections, and he knows they're coming. At issue is crowding at Central Elementary in Edgewater, which has 795 students, 130 more than its capacity. The school system is projecting that next year, Central will have 835 students — and 845 by 2016.

Among the solutions considered: moving some Central students to Davidsonville Elementary, which has 591 students and is in the midst of receiving an addition that will bring its capacity to 727. Plus, its enrollment is expected to decrease to 527 by 2016.

The other school is Mayo Elementary in Edgewater, which has 293 students, well below its capacity of 352. Its enrollment is also expected to decrease, albeit slightly, to 290 students by 2016.

The school system has formed a committee composed of representatives from the schools. It will meet Tuesdays in October to formulate a recommendation to schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell by Nov. 7.

The superintendent will make his proposal to the school board no later than its first December meeting, and then the board will take up the matter for its own recommendations. Public hearings will take place in February or March, and the board will vote on final recommendations by April 30.

Yocum said, and many parents agreed, that the upside to the proposed move is that it involves three high-performing schools with similar test scores: On the Maryland School Assessments third-grade reading tests this year, Central had 94.6 percent of its students post advanced proficiency scores, while Mayo and Davidsonville each had 95 percent of their students with advanced proficiency scores.

"Mayo, Davidsonville and Central are all outstanding schools," said Central Principal Jan Haberlein. "People become familiar, and they like where they are." And she said that though Central has grown by more than 200 students in the past four academic years, "it has a very small-school feel."

Central parents like Tammie Winters of Harwood said those scores indicate that high enrollment isn't affecting student performance.

"If we are up at capacity and keep our test scores up with the lower-capacity schools, and nobody's complaining, then if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Winters said. "If people were complaining and unhappy, it would be a different story."

Some parents, however, said that they understand why some change should be in order, noting that enrollment at Central is so large that students often spend a great portion of their lunchtime standing in line to be served.

"Change is difficult. I've redistricted my own house twice," said Yocum. "I know and I understand where they are coming from. But they don't always see the internal workings of the school on a daily basis."

Yocum said that having students spend significant time in lines is among the reasons redistricting moves are considered. "That's not good for instruction, students rushing to eat their food or going back to class hungry," he added.

Central parent Susan Merkel of Harwood asked Yocum how many students the school system hopes to move, and Yocum said about 80 to 100.

Yocum added, "Will we be able to alleviate every issue and walk out of here with Central under 100 percent [capacity]? I don't think so. I've looked at the numbers 100 ways, top to bottom, left to right, and I don't think we can do it without causing too much discomfort someplace else.

"But let's be honest," Yocum added. "With 800 kids, any relief is good relief, when you're dealing with lunches and drop-offs."

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