By Jon Meoli, firstname.lastname@example.org
8:19 AM EST, January 28, 2014
Towson community leaders and school advocates are taking stock of the recent announcement that Cromwell Valley Elementary will change from a countywide magnet school to a neighborhood school with a magnet program — the latest piece of the school system's central area overcrowding relief plan.
"We don't have all the answers, so right now, we're kind of rolling with it," Tamee Bollanger, president of the Campus Hills Community Association, said. Cromwell Valley Elementary is in the Campus Hills neighborhood of Towson.
The changes to Cromwell Valley Elementary, located at 825 Providence Road, were announced on the Baltimore County Public Schools website on Friday, Jan. 17 when the school system updated its plan to stem overcrowding in the central area.
That plan now calls for a 189-seat addition to Cromwell Valley Elementary, as well as a 600-seat school at the site of Loch Raven Elementary, and a renovation of Halstead Academy for a future program.
Nicole Priestly, the assistant superintendent who oversees Cromwell Valley Elementary, said the decision to change the school's student population stemmed solely from the need for seats in the central area.
The plans are still under review by the state Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC), which would provide state funding to the project. But because the project has changed since its introduction — and looks to change further before it is completed — some who have followed the process are withholding judgment until they have more answers.
The effect on Cromwell Valley Elementary, however, is easy to discern.
Cromwell Valley Elementary closed as a neighborhood school in 1983 at which time its entire student population was shifted to Hampton Elementary. The school reopened with a technology magnet program in 1994, and students within its traditional walking boundary were given priority placement at the school. The rest of the students had to apply and were selected from a countywide magnet lottery.
As of September 2013, Cromwell Valley Elementary drew students from 61 county elementaries, though half of its 449 students come from nearby schools. According to the BCPS data, 99 Cromwell students live in the Hampton Elementary catchment zone; 68 come from Pleasant Plains Elementary; 30 are zoned for Halstead Academy; and 25 would otherwise go to nearby Oakleigh Elementary. Pleasant Plains and Oakleigh elementaries are both slated to be redistricted when the new school at Loch Raven Elementary is completed.
With the announced changes, Cromwell Valley Elementary students who were accepted to the school through the magnet program will be allowed to remain at the school through their last year.
The rest of the enrollment of the school, which at that point will have 600 seats, would be filled through redistricting beginning in August 2015.
According to the BCPS website, "the school would not accept those students who live out of the boundary."
"The Hampton community is definitely aware that we will be the community most clearly and definitely affected by redistricting of Cromwell Valley," Hampton Elementary PTA President Yara Cheikh said. "While we'd like to have every child in our school (now) for their entire academic career, we understand that redistricting is necessary to alleviate overcrowding."
Page Birney, a Greenbrier resident and president of the Cromwell Valley Elementary PTA, said the news has caused an "overwhelming feeling" of "uncertainty and disappointment" in that school's community.
She said she was flooded with emails and questions once the news was posted on the BCPS website, and because no one from the school system had reached out to tell the PTA before the news was posted, she "didn't know how to answer them."
Birney wrote to Superintendent Dallas Dance's office requesting he come to a PTA meeting to explain the changes, but she was instructed to submit her questions in writing so the answers could also be posted on the BCPS website.
"The whole thing has been disappointing," Birney said. "I understand change, accept change, and am OK with change. But if you're going to have change, you have to communicate in a way to make people feel better about that change."
Some parents, Birney said, have already decided to move because of the decision.
One, Hillendale resident Lily Rowe, fought for sibling priority to remain in place at Cromwell Valley Elementary in recent years so all three of her children could attend Cromwell. With that now in jeopardy, and the constant upheaval in schools surounding her home, she said she plans to move.
"The way I see it, they're basically upending the whole county," Rowe, a member of the Central Area Advisory Committee, said. "Do I want to live through this or would it be better for my family to move?"
Bollanger, of Campus Hills, said her community wants to ensure the school's diversity, and maintain their children's access to the school. She said the community also has concerns about traffic on Providence Road, and is waiting for the results of a traffic study to see what relief could be provided to the area on that front.
Some, however, question what the central area plan does for overcrowding on the west side of Towson.
West Towson Elementary and Rodgers Forge Elementary were a combined 139 students over capacity as of Sept. 30, and represent the most overcrowded elementary schools in the area.
"This whole phase of the plan started with the county executive recognizing we needed to really, once and for all, cure the overcrowding in the Towson elementary schools," Cathi Forbes, an area school advocate, said. "We needed the 500 seats, and he funded those 500 seats."
The path to getting to this solution, she said, has been "circuitous."
"It's been a difficult path, and, in the end, I'm not sure we're getting the solution that's best for the community," Forbes said.
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