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Howard school board takes first crack at middle school redistricting plan

Howard County Board of Education members were literally all over the map at the first work session to discuss redistricting among the county’s middle schools.

Superintendent Renee Foose last week proposed moving 1,177 students among eight schools in order to open a new middle school next year in Hanover, and board members Wednesday, Oct. 30 began looking at a multitude of options for the impending shift.

“There is no perfect plan,” said Joel Gallihue, the school system’s manager of school planning. “You’re not going to balance the plan on every single one of the (11 criteria for redistricting outlined in policy). But I believe this plan is true to its goal.”

The goal of this redistricting is to open the new school and keep disruption to a minimum, but the board discussed opening up redistricting to a larger scale to address overcrowding at Ellicott Mills Middle School, as well.

It’s hard to relieve Ellicott Mills with the capacity at the new school, Gallihue said, because it would require a domino effect of moving students from Ellicott Mills to Bonnie Branch, then Elkridge Landing and the new middle school.

Going north and west, Gallihue said, Ellicott Mills students could be moved to Patapsco, and then create a domino from Patapsco to Dunloggin and then possibly into Mount View and Folly Quarter middle schools.

“That type of plan would at least double what we had proposed, and that’s a breach of the goals we had established,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan, but you have to have the goal of a longer-lasting plan rather than a less disruptive plan.”

A plan to relieve Ellicott Mills could also mean disrupting strong feeds at elementary schools that feed into Ellicott City middle schools, Gallihue said.

Another issue the board tried to address was the movement of students from Mayfield Woods to the new middle school — a plan parents said transported the students too far along heavily congested roads and isolated them from their community.

But if those students in the Meadowridge Landing community aren’t moved, the new middle school would open with about two-and-a-half fewer classrooms of students, Gallihue said, and if that area is moved to the new school, the new school can better accommodate coming developing in the Blue Stream area in Elkridge, which is part of the Meadowridge Landing community. Furthermore, if the students aren’t moved, Mayfield Woods becomes overcrowded again much more quickly.

Gallihue also addressed parent concerns about transportation. The students from Mayfield Woods traveling to the new middle school wouldn’t necessarily have to traverse Route 100. Staff is looking at every possible transportation route, like Dorsey Road as an alternative, Gallihue said.

The board also looked at the Emerson community in North Laurel, which currently attends Murray Hill and is proposed to attend Patuxent Valley. Murray Hill parents expressed dismay and fury over this suggestion because they said it would mean sending their students to a school with lower academic standards. Beyond that, Emerson would be split, with half the neighborhood attending Murray Hill and the other half attending Patuxent Valley.

“Emerson is indeed split by this plan,” Gallihue said. “I wouldn’t dispute that. But the argument we made is that we are creating very strong feeds.”

Emerson is already split between Forest Ridge and Gorman Crossing elementary schools, and with the proposed plan, all of Forest Ridge and all of Bollman Bridge elementary schools would be going to Patuxent Valley, and all of Gorman Crossing and Laurel Woods elementary schools would be going to Murray Hill.

When it comes to relieving overcrowding at Murray Hill, Gallihue said, options are limited if the board wants to create strong feeds there and at Patuxent Valley, and if they want to keep redistricting to an eastward shift. Otherwise, Murray Hill students would have to be moved into Hammond, which is already proposed to send students to Lime Kiln.

Several board members were in favor of expanding the scope of redistricting in the Lime Kiln area, specifically south of Route 216. Under Foose’s proposal, some neighborhoods south of 216 would move from Hammond to Lime Kiln, and Ellen Giles suggested — with some other board members in support — of moving more of those Hammond students to Lime Kiln. Those students are currently attending Fulton Elementary School and Reservoir (on the same campus as Lime Kiln) and only leaving the campus to attend middle school.

In moving more students to Lime Kiln, Giles also suggested moving some Lime Kiln students westward to Folly Quarter, utilizing space at that school and creating more room at Lime Kiln for students currently attending Hammond.

Janet Siddiqui wanted the board to look at a possible “grandfathering” for the middle school students affected by redistricting, which would allow rising eighth graders to finish out their middle school careers at their original school. She cited the middle school years as being a “critical time” for students.

While that could be problematic, as those students are needed to open the new middle school, Board Chairman Frank Aquino said he was “not closed off” to the idea.

With so many options being discussed over the brief span of two hours, and little definitive decisions made, Aquino suggested board members send ideas and requests to staff to run through the What-If scenario software used in school planning. The board has two more work sessions planned: Nov. 15 at 10 a.m., and Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. One more public hearing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. 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 is set for Thursday, Nov. 21. All meetings all open to the public, and are in the board room at the Department of Education in Ellicott City.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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