In a recent edition of our local newspapers, one of the main stories was that Fallston schools were the big winners in Harford School construction plans. It further states that the Board of Education passed an Educational Facilities Master plan for the upcoming school year that doesn't include funding for replacing Havre de Grace High School.
Last year, when I was elected to the Havre de Grace City Council, I was told by County Council President Billy Boniface that a new Havre de Grace High school was not on anyone's radar screen. He was right.
Based on that comment, we rallied elected officials, PTA Presidents, parents, and more importantly our students to tell the Havre de Grace Story and I feel we did so in a very positive and professional manner, addressing the following key points:
• SECURITY CONCERNS. The main entrance is in a geographically separate area from the main office. It is hard to maintain control as to who enters and exits the building. However, the security concerns for Havre de Grace High are even more complicated. The Havre de Grace Campus is split by two main roadways…Congress Avenue and Juniata Street. The gymnasium and music wing is on the opposite side of the street and is always unlocked allowing anyone to enter the building. One of the primary goals of this Board of Education is to "provide a safe, secure and healthy learning environment." Given the current situation at Havre de Grace High School, we are undoubtedly falling short of that goal.
• SAFETY CONCERNS. Primary streets running through the Havre de Grace Campus pose a significant safety problem. Students have to cross the street for athletic events and to reach a safe haven in the event of a fire drill. Another safety concern, stairways are only approximately four-foot-wide. Can you image what would happen in the event of an emergency and students had to evacuate the building quickly? Someone could undoubtedly get trampled to death. And then there are the gas leaks. Susquehanna Hose Co. has had to respond to repeated calls over the past three years. These three facts alone indicate that Havre de Grace High School is an accident waiting to happen. It is critical that we elevate such concerns to the state level. Failure to do so gives our state officials an easy out if a tragedy were to occur. They would place the blame directly back on Harford County. Their fallback position would be: "I didn't know there was a major problem. Had we known, we could have fixed it.
• TECHNOLOGICAL SHORTFALLS. Havre de Grace High School has only one (I repeat only one) computer lab for the entire school and it is only large enough to hold 27 computers. Other schools in the county have 6 to 9 computer labs with current and up-to-date equipment. Given the challenges that our kids will have to face once graduating, this puts them at a severe disadvantage. We feel that students at Havre de Grace High School are not on a level playing with students in other parts of Harford County.
• MAGNET PROGRAMS. Havre de Grace loses approximately 25-40 students every year to other schools in the county. Magnet programs have stolen away the top students. Harford County Public Schools does not allow athletes to transfer to other schools, but they allow our best and brightest students to transfer, leaving their friends behind, because we cannot provide them with adequate educational opportunities in their own home town. I recently was told that parents of all eight graders are encouraged to get their applications in for magnet schools. With no magnet schools in the Havre de Grace Community, how can we compete and more importantly, keep enrollment from declining? There has to be a better way. One strong possibility is a Performing Arts magnet program. We have excellent band and chorus instructors. Havre de Grace also has a Drama Guild program through Parks and Recreation and is in the process of renovating the Opera House. Other potential alternatives would be a nursing program (given the close proximity to the Harford Memorial Hospital) or an environmental science program (given the close proximity to the Susquehanna River/Chesapeake Bay). Any would be a viable option.
I am sure that the recent article has left the Havre de Grace Community somewhat disappointed. But keep in mind, now we are on the radar screen and we have made key decision makers take notice. The invaluable message sent by our students (the true potential benefactors) was articulate, professional, and justified by facts and supporting documentation. Their message would make any mom or dad proud. We need to continue to reinforce such a positive message to ensure that what is now just a dream of a new school will finally come true.
I recognize upfront that the Board of Education is faced with an era of increasing budget uncertainty and fiscal constraints. However, we must keep our goal of a new school and potential magnet programs on the radar screen. You have my commitment as the Havre de Grace City Council's liaison to the Board of Education to continue that fight on behalf of our most valuable resource, the students of the Havre de Grace community. I will continue to encourage the members of the Board of Education to keep an open mind. Visiting Havre de Grace High School reinforces the need for major changes and the need to get the scope study moving forward. The students at Havre de Grace High School deserve the same opportunities for educational success as those in other parts of the county.
I look forward to the opportunity in building bridges and working with the Board of Education, the new interim superintendent Barbara Canavan, the Harford County Council and the Harford County Executive. Working together, we can undoubtedly "make a difference" and make a long awaited dream finally come true.
How do we make that happen? I encourage you to attend the Board of Education meetings and have your voices heard. If you are unable to attend to due to a busy schedule, send an email to the Interim Superintendent and/or the Board of Education members to elevate the concerns you may have. Get the message positive because in the end, we need their vote.
Keep the faith. I refuse to give up.
Havre de Grace City CouncilCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun