By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
9:18 PM EST, March 5, 2013
The Baltimore County school board voted Tuesday to close its smallest elementary school in order to accommodate a plan that would allow county officials to sell property for development.
The unanimous vote, with two members abstaining, will close the Eastwood Center Elementary Magnet Program, where 191 students study environmental science, at the end of this school year and merge it with Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle School. The schools will become one school on two campuses, organized as a K-8 magnet program focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
While the move was met with parents' protests, school officials said the plan would balance enrollment at the schools and introduce magnet programs to more Dundalk students.
Parents also expressed concern about the plan to combine elementary and middle school students; school officials said students in pre-kindergarten through third grade would attend school at the Norwood building, while those in grades four through eight would attend Holabird.
The plan stems from a proposal by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to sell county properties for development, including the North Point Government Center. As part of that plan, the police precinct located at the government center would relocate to the Eastwood Center Elementary location.
Board members echoed the sentiment that the plan's introduction was not handled well — Eastwood parents and Dundalk community members complained that the process was not transparent, and decried a lack of community input. But all agreed that the plan would ultimately extend better educational opportunities to more students in the long-neglected eastern part of the county, who would benefit from a rigorous curriculum and robust campus in the first K-8 STEM program.
Superintendent Dallas Dance and board members noted that what factored into their decision was that Eastwood had a long waiting list of students from the Dundalk area looking for a magnet-school education.
"The roll-out was not done particularly well," board president Lawrence E. Schmidt said. "But, why should we shut out kids another year?"
Board members also said it was imperative that the school system have the campus as ready as possible to accommodate the merger in the fall, in order to maintain credibility that the plan's ends justified its means.
District officials said they will start to have community meetings to discuss what upgrades the campus will need, and establish a communications work group to ensure regular updates to the community.
Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.
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