With plans to add two schools and replace six others over the next five years, Anne Arundel County Public Schools will consider redistricting nearly half the county to balance attendance as capacity is added.
The system is also replacing several aging school buildings. Replacements for Quarterfield and Rippling Woods elementary schools will open in 2023. A renovated Meade High School will open in September 2024, as will a replacement for Old Mill Middle School South. A replacement for the Center for Applied Technology North will open in September of 2026, as will a replacement of Old Mill Middle North.
A replacement for Old Mill High School will open in September 2027.
Meantime, West County Elementary School will open in September 2024, as will the new Old Mill West High School in Severn. The school system will need to create a geographic boundary for those new schools, and if students live within a given attendance area they are eligible to enroll.
Splitting the two middle schools from the attached high school at the Old Mill complex and building replacements will allow the system to add more seats for students at those new schools, as will the other renovations, replacements and new schools planned.
To take advantage of the new capacity and establish attendance zones for the new schools, the administration is proposing a large-scale redistricting that will cover seven school clusters: Old Mill, Chesapeake, Arundel, Northeast, North County, Meade and Glen Burnie clusters.
Earlier this month the Board of Education discussed the planned redistricting. District 2 Member Robert Silkworth could not recall a similar major redistricting update taking place during his 50 years in Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
“This is going to be historic,” he said.
District 4 Board of Education Member Melissa Ellis of Millersville suggested expanding redistricting to include the entire county, citing crowded schools in other clusters.
Including some communities and not others gives the perception that some are being favored, she said. Any changes that have happened over the decades have been piecemeal; this is a chance to look at everything.
“We’re not going to get this opportunity again for the foreseeable future,” Ellis said.
The board hired a contractor in December to evaluate school boundaries, and Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said WXY Architecture and Urban Design is now finalizing several scenarios for redistricting for schools in the seven clusters.
Old Mill is one of three high schools in the county where enrollment exceeds state-rated capacity, along with North County High. Enrollment at Piney Orchard and Waugh Chapel elementaries in the Arundel cluster also exceed capacity.
Two schools in other clusters – Crofton Middle and Annapolis High – are over capacity but not presently in the redistricting plan.
The system has 10,000 vacant seats throughout the county, Silkworth said, places where there are not enough students to fill classrooms. Redistricting could balance enrollment.
Ellis said she plans to seek the advice of board counsel as to what the next steps would be to expand the redistricting effort. The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. Redistricting is not on the agenda.
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The scenarios created by WXY Architecture and Urban Design are just proposals. At a Board of Education meeting Sept. 7, the school system said it will launch an awareness campaign and plans to hold listening sessions in each cluster and a community-wide forum this fall.
WXY Architecture and Urban Design is developing a website with an interactive map showing various scenarios, according to Kyle Ruef, supervisor of planning, design and construction. An outline of planned community engagement shows that site launching in September.
The firm was hired in December for $131,000 with possible contract extensions. It previously has worked on redistricting projects in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
The system also is establishing a Citizens Advisory Committee, with two members from each of the seven clusters, to discuss redistricting. Szachnowicz said because these members know their communities well, the system will seek advice on how to best conduct public hearings. Members from different high school clusters and groups including the Special Education Advisory Committee and Anne Arundel Council of PTAs are appointed to the committee by the Board of Education.
“How do we get the most feedback possible?” Szachnowicz said. “Your [Citizens Advisory Committee] members have their ears to the ground. They know their communities. We need to learn from them.”
He said the meetings will be available to the public for viewing only.
Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said as board members have indicated they wish to have more discussion about redistricting, no meetings will be firmly scheduled until that discussion is complete.