Walls going up is good news at Halethorpe Elementary

Walls will be going up this summer and that's good news for faculty and parents at Halethorpe Elementary School.

The construction means the end of six open-concept classrooms at the school on Maple Avenue.

Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance informed Halethorpe's principal Jill Carter and teachers on Jan. 11 that construction will take place during the summer break.

Carter sent a letter to the community about the decision right away. "We're very excited," she said.

Dance's announcement came during a visit to the school as he toured the open classrooms.

One of the partitions had fallen earlier in the week and staff from the school system's Office of Facilities responded to check it out as well as all the other partitions that separate the open space into separate classrooms. No one was hurt.

Construction will take place in the summer, according to Carter. She said the conversion has been in the works for quite a while, with ongoing discussions about floor plans and necessary changes to the heating and ventilation and sprinkler system.

An architect was due out this week for further study, she added.

The six open-space classrooms are part of the original school building. Teachers have divided the space with coat racks, book cases, fabric and temporary partitions. Still, sounds travel between the spaces, even on a quiet Monday when children are sitting attentively listening to their teachers.

Halethorpe second-grade teacher Sarah Myers, who has spent the past two years in an open classroom, said she was relieved this year would be her last.

In the past, teachers were assigned two years to the open classrooms, she said.

"We won't have to move now," she said.

She said she was due to move to a closed classroom in the fall and was not looking forward to moving her supplies and books.

The teacher expressed gratitude for the help of area representatives in her quest to put the walls up. First District Councilman Tom Quirk spoke in favor of enclosing the classrooms and brought a representative of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to tour the school. Del. James Malone lent his support and Del. Steve DeBoy signed the online petition, she said.

"This is local government working for you, helping you out," Myers said.

In early December, Myers posted a petition at http://www.change.org asking school officials to enclose six classrooms that now house second and fifth grades. The petition was signed by 290 people online and nearly that many on paper in the school office. She posted the petition after asking for support at the December PTA meeting.

Myers, a teacher with 21 years' experience, brought her concerns to the Baltimore County Board of Education when she spoke at the board's meeting Jan. 8.

In addition to Myers, Carter, Assistant Principal Russell Pratt, fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Flynn and two parents also attended the Tuesday evening meeting.

Flynn, who also has experience teaching in open classroom space, was also given an opportunity to speak.

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