A recommendation to move more than 1,000 students to new schools next year went before the Howard County Board of Education on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as work proceeds on middle school redistricting.
As part of the final recommendation from staff and Superintendent Renee Foose, 1,177 students among nine schools in the southeastern portion of the county would be impacted. The redistricting is taking place because the school system is scheduled to open its 20th middle school next August in the Oxford Square development in Hanover.
Two public sessions and three work sessions are scheduled before the board takes a final vote Nov. 21.
Three central themes ran through the night's presentation: minimizing the movement of and disruption to students; considering the impact on individual neighborhoods; and creating strong feeds to the middle schools.
"We put together a plan that we believe will work in the long-term for the school system," said Joel Gallihue, the system's manager of school planning.
Months of work have gone into the recommendation currently before the school board. The system tried something different this year, Gallihue said, in the community meetings held last spring before preliminary redistricting plans were even drawn up. Those meetings were to garner a sense of what county residents did and didn't want from redistricting.
A second set of community meetings were held earlier this fall, where residents got a first-hand look at some ideas drawn up by the citizen committee advising staff on redistricting. Reactions from those meetings were key in the final recommendation, Gallihue said.
For example, any plan to move Wilde Lake Middle School students to Clarksville Middle School — an idea conceptualized by the citizen committee — was taken off the table.
"The committee thought (redistricting Wilde Lake) would be a good idea," Gallihue said, because the school is overcapacity, but "we feel Wilde Lake can't be improved with (the new middle school)."
The board directed staff to create a redistricting plan that focused heavily on opening the new Hanover school, Gallihue said, so while other plans would address overcrowding at Wilde Lake or Ellicott Mills Middle School, alleviating those schools has to wait.
"We don't anticipate we can leave these things forever," Gallihue said. "But our job was to open the new middle school with as little disruption as possible and try to accomplish something good for that community and those schools."
Other changes suggested by the citizen committee had to be reconsidered, Gallihue said, because they disrupted strong feeds — a key aspect of school planning.
"(This plan) moves our programs toward more complete feeder patterns," Gallihue said. A complete feed means that an entire elementary school feeds into a middle school.
Under the recommendation, strengthened feeds would exist at five of the nine schools impacted by redistricting. That's possible by moving neighborhoods whose elementary school students attend one middle school to another middle school attending area. For example, attending areas for Forest Ridge and Bollman Bridge elementary schools (and subsequently a Murray Hill attending area) are recommended to be moved to Patuxent Valley, giving that middle school a feed of only those two schools, and leaving Murray Hill with a feed of solely Gorman Crossing and Laurel Woods elementary school students.
"Strong" feeds also would be created at Elkridge Landing and Hammond middle schools, Gallihue said. While the new middle school would draw students from Patuxent Valley, Mayfield Woods and Elkridge Landing (and five elementary schools: Bellows Spring, Deep Run, Guilford, Ducketts Lane and Rockburn), those weaker feeds will be strengthened, Gallihue said, when those elementary school students help open a new school in 2019, likely in the same Hanover development.
"The goal is to have the new middle school be comprised of feeds from Ducketts Lane (opened this year) and the next new elementary school," he said. "Where we have small feeds here, we're preparing for the future."