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Howard parents voice concerns over middle school redistricting

Three themes consistently rang out at the first public hearing on the proposed redistricting for Howard County middle schools Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Board of Education in Ellicott City.

First, there were divided thoughts on whether Wilde Lake Middle School — not included at all in Superintendent Renee Foose's proposal to move 1,177 students next year in order to open a new middle school in the Oxford Square development in Hanover — should or should not be redistricted.

Second, members of the Emerson community in North Laurel asked that the Board of Education avoid moving their neighborhood out of the Murray Hill Middle School district and into Patuxent Valley Middle School.

Lastly, the Meadow Ridge community in Elkridge asked that they not be moved from Mayfield Woods Middle School to the new middle school.

Nearly 30 people spoke, and nearly 75 attended, the public hearing, with testimony at times becoming emotional.

"I don't think you understand the emotional stress this puts on my children, when you say, 'You have to move,' " said Brenda Taylor, a Murray Hill mother in the Emerson community.

Taylor and her husband, who both served in the armed forces, want to provide stability for their children, and redistricting, Taylor said, would disrupt that.

Other Emerson community members lambasted plans to move their students from Murray Hill to Patuxent Valley. Under the proposal, Murray Hill would send 247 students to Patuxent Valley — a school, Murray Hill parents said, that's significantly lower-performing than their own.

"I was pretty upset that Emerson was going to be split from the majority of the Murray Hill community, but even more furious that you would send our kids to a school with significantly lower standards," said Katie Schneider. "How would you feel about your children attending the school with one of the lowest (Maryland School Assessment) scores in the county?"

Academic, socioeconomic and racial divides also were at the forefront of the testimony on Wilde Lake. The Attendance Area Committee had suggested a portion of Wilde Lake's district be moved to Clarksville Middle School — a suggestion that was never officially presented to the board. Some parents want it to remain off the table, saying moving one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the district to Clarksville would result in a higher concentration of poverty at Wilde Lake, deplete the school of much-needed parental resources and split Clemens Crossing Elementary School among four middle schools.

Still, said Wilde Lake parent Michelle Wood, the fact that parents are asking for their students to be moved out of Wilde Lake should "set off alarms.

"Simply put, these parents want their children moved from the low-performing system to the high-performing one," she said. "But if the situation was reversed so that Wilde Lake was the receiving school and Clarksville was overcrowded, you would be hearing a very different argument."

Still, other parents said, Wilde Lake is overcrowded, which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, and Clarksville is well-under capacity.

"Wilde Lake suffers from the least amount of square-footage per student," said Wilde Lake parent Barbara Norton, who is in favor of redistricting to Clarksville. "This would not create an overcrowding issue at Clarksville, and overcrowding at Wilde Lake could have negative implications for the school. This would also increase economic and cultural diversity at Clarksville."

Finally, parents in Elkridge's Meadow Ridge Landing neighborhood spoke out against moving their students to the new Hanover middle school, citing what they perceived to be negligible and unnecessary disruption and concern over distance and travel routes. Mayfield Woods is about a mile from their community, parents said, and while the new middle school is just four miles away, it means a longer bus trip on frequently bottle-necked and accident-prone Route 100.

"Busing students to the new middle school, to an entirely different community far from their own, isolates them; could adversely affect their academic performance; and, most of all, their quality of life," said parent Tia Howard.

Furthermore, Howard and others said, the elementary school feeds going into the new middle school are fractured and tiny, far below the system's ideal. Five elementary schools (Bellows Spring, Deep Run, Guilford, Ducketts Lane and Rockburn) make up 36 percent of the feed for the new middle school. When the proposal was presented to the board Oct. 22, Manager of School Planning Joel Gallihue said those small feeds would be rectified with a new elementary school in 2019 that would include students from those five schools and create a stronger feed.

The board is holding public work sessions on Foose's proposed redistricting on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. and Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Another public hearing is Monday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. All meetings are at the Department of Education in Ellicott City. Residents are also able to submit redistricting testimony via email to the board at boe@hcpss.org by 4:30 p.m. Nov. 19. A final vote on redistricting is Nov. 21.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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