New superintendent says he'll take another look at BCPS magnet policy

New Baltimore County Public Schools SuperintendentS. Dallas Dancehas assigned staff to examine recent changes to the county magnet school policy — a move that came after Cromwell Valley Elementary School parents urged him to reconsider the measure at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

Schools spokesman Charlie Herndon said Wednesday that Dance will decide on the issue once he receives a report on the policy, which was changed in the final months of Joe Hairston's tenure as superintendent.

Dozens of Cromwell Valley Elementary School parents lobbied the board at its July 10 meeting to reinstate the "priority placement" policies that gave preference in lottery enrollment to kindergarten candidates for elementary magnet schools.

"While recognizing the board has the right to change policies, I'm very distressed by this repeal," said Lily Rowe, a Parkville resident who has a 6-year-old daughter, Zenaida, at Cromwell Valley.

Speaking at the board meeting, Rowe said her 4-year-old son Aidan will get in before the appeal, but her 1-year-old daughter, Evangeline, could be sent to a different school.

"When we enrolled our daughter into the magnet program, it was with the understanding that our other two children would be able to go," Rowe said. "I did not and could not have imagined the board would change this policy that's been in place for over 20 years."

The school board voted to change the policy on April 17 with little fanfare, and many parents didn't find out about the changes until late May.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, kindergarten candidates with older siblings enrolled in that elementary magnet program will not be given priority placement ahead of the traditional lottery

Additionally, beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, students who live within the existing walking boundary from when Cromwell Valley was a traditional elementary school will also not be granted priority placement.

Michael Middleton, a Cromwell Valley parent, told the board that parents had heard various reasons for the change, but are still unsure of why it went through.

He said he understands the various accommodations the school board had to make to juggle class size and allow for the magnet program to be fair to all students. Still, he urged that the board put the issue back up for consideration, "just for the opportunity for the public once again, for those parents who are being impacted now and in the future, to come forward and express their views."

Many of the parents who spoke were concerned about the possibility that their children would be at separate elementary schools because of the policy change, a circumstance Middleton said would benefit no one.

"The parental involvement (at Cromwell Valley) is astounding" Middleton said. "It's the dynamic that really makes Cromwell work."

That parental involvement was on display Tuesday night.

Jill and Tim Griffin were among several parents whose children will not be directly affected by the policy change, but spoke about their concerns for the school and community should the change be upheld.

Cromwell Valley parent Michele Calderon made an emotional appeal to the board.

Calderon currently has three children at Cromwell Valley, with a fourth who would be enrolled the year the policy change takes place.

Calderon urged them to reconsider on behalf of "the parents who made life decisions, such as myself, to buy a house in a particular neighborhood knowing that all my children could go to Cromwell Valley."

"Now," she said, "that might be taken away."

After the public comment portion, school board president Lawrence Schmidt said he and the board would take the comments under consideration.

Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson, joined the parents at the meeting.

Marks also this week sent a letter to Dance on the issue.

In the July 9 letter, Marks suggested that priority for walkers at Cromwell Valley be codified, and that sibling priority either be extended to 2018-19 to accommodate current students or grandfathered to families with students who enrolled under the original policy.

"The impact of these changes would be twofold," Marks wrote in the letter to Dance. "First, the changes would send a clear signal at the beginning of your tenure that you listen to community concerns. Second, the changes would transition the magnet policy but in a manner that is more respectful to the concerns of parents whose children currently attend Cromwell Valley Elementary School."

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