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Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano reflects on the redistricting plan and process Nov. 22, one day after the Board of Education voted to approve it.
Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano reflects on the redistricting plan and process Nov. 22, one day after the Board of Education voted to approve it. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun)

The decision by the Howard County Board of Education to change school attendance areas for over 5,400 students completed an 11-month redistricting process that demonstrated our commitment to equity, underscoring the importance of providing the right educational services and supports for students, and the need for an equitable learning environment in which every student thrives.

The decisions made by the board represent great steps toward ensuring the priority of our system is deeply interwoven in the fabric of our work. We remain committed to meeting students where they are and providing the individualized supports they need at the point they need them.

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This is the largest redistricting effort in Howard County’s history and a major course correction in undoing nearly a decade’s worth of overcrowding at many of our schools while advancing socioeconomic equity across all schools.

Across the nation, equity has become a convenient talking point for educational and political leaders alike. For Howard County schools, it has become ingrained as a fundamental value that drives the work that we do. Future redistricting processes, budgets and the day-to-day work by all Howard County Public School System staff will use equity as a guiding tenet. Graduation rate is the ultimate measure by which a school district gauges success, and the only way to move that needle upward is ensuring that every student has the right supports and a school environment that enables them to thrive.

In Howard County, we have advanced a powerful conversation about the importance of socioeconomic status when discussing capacity. Howard County continues to be a leader in how we educate and take care of our children, and now we are setting an example for how to truly advance equity through the redistricting process. That in itself is a victory for our children and community, and will have sustained and lasting impact.

Nobody likes redistricting. At the same time, nobody likes crowded schools, portable classrooms, overcoming the significant challenges created by poverty or being without critical supports. Every Howard County Public School System school has tremendous staff, curriculum, resources and opportunities. At the same time, a crowded school, or one that serves a community where nearly 70% of students live in poverty, faces much steeper challenges in providing adequate care and support to every student than a school where less than 5% of students are economically disadvantaged.

The growing concentrations of poverty that exist in Howard County are not a result of decisions made by the school system. But this is our community’s reality, and one that educators must confront head-on in order to fully support each of our 59,000 children. We embrace our responsibility to educate every child and ensure that they graduate prepared to embark on a successful life filled with opportunities and fulfillment. It is indisputable that easing crowding and reducing high levels of poverty at a school benefits all students. Research also has shown us that greater diversity in schools has a positive impact on every child.

The day after Howard County's Board of Education voted to approve a redistricting plan, Superintendent Martirano reflects on the process and outcome.

Former U.S. Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John B. King Jr. wrote in a recent op-ed: “We hope that in Howard County, throughout Maryland and across the nation, elected leaders have the political will and the courage to do what’s right for their students and their community on school diversity.” We did, and I suspect Howard County’s example will become the norm as districts across the nation tackle the tough job of redistricting.

As a result of the board’s action, 51 of our schools will be within target utilization of between 90% and 110%, up from 42 schools today. In addition, we will increase enrollment at our under-filled schools, bringing more of them closer to 90%, and reducing enrollment at our most overcrowded schools, bringing them closer to 110%. In addition, we have taken a significant step toward advancing socioeconomic equity in our schools. I am pleased that based on enrollment and Free and Reduced Meals program participation projections, this plan will have a significant impact:

  • Thirty-three total schools currently above the countywide average of 22.5% will see an overall decrease in their FARMs percentage as a result of these moves. Thirteen of these 33 schools will experience a 5 to 22 percentage point decrease in their FARMs rate.
  • The FARMS percentage for four schools below the countywide average will increase by a minimum of 8 percentage points, putting them closer to the countywide average.

Our work in advancing equity doesn’t end here. Many gaps remain in opportunities, resources and supports for our children with the greatest needs. Now that we know what schools our students will attend next year, we must articulate our needs to our families, partners and elected leaders so we can provide individualized supports for every student and fully demonstrate equity in action.

In less than one month, I will be presenting my proposed operating budget, providing a clear road map to resolve our gaps in equity and continue to lift up our graduation rate as our north star.

I thank every Howard County resident for their resolve and participation throughout this process. We are a resilient community that will become better and stronger as a result.

Michael Martirano is the superintendent of the Howard County Public School System. He can be reached at superintendent@hcpss.org.

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