Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano
Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano (Brian Krista/BSMG)

The Howard County Public School System's 12 high schools should be excluded from the impending redistricting in the 2018-2019 school year, according to Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano, whose recommendations to the Board of Education Tuesday called for halting high school redistricting at least until the county's new, 13th high school opens in 2022.

To address the number of elementary students feeding into middle schools as well as the opening of Elementary School 42 in August 2018, Martirano proposed moving approximately 313 students at the middle school level and about 1,900 students at the elementary school level. These students would shift from schools in the eastern part of the county to underutilized schools in the western region.

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Martirano's recommendation cuts the feasibility study's earlier proposed redistricting numbers by nearly a quarter, which suggested redistricting about 8,800 students. After Martirano first introduced the fast-tracking of High School 13 last month, the Attendance Area Committee's original recommendation to redistrict 6,500 students dropped to 5,600 students.

In his proposal before the board Oct. 3, Martirano included his plan to open High School 13 two years earlier, which would add more seats at the high school level and reduce overcrowding, he said.

Thirty-five Howard County schools currently fall outside the board policy's target utilization, which limits building capacity to between 90 and 110 percent. Martirano said he included input from the Attendance Area Committee and more than 8,000 public surveys and three alternative plans to compile his recommendations.

The language immersion program Martirano had previously proposed to alleviate some redistricting in elementary schools was "never meant for implementation" in 2018 due to limits from the Capital Improvement Program, he said Tuesday. However, the language immersion programs would be implemented within the next decade, Martirano said.

Parents weigh in on countywide school redistricting

While still early in the process, with no official redistricting plans in place, parents remain uncertain as they wait to learn what school their children will attend in 2018, while residential developments continue popping up throughout the county.

If high schools were redistricted for the next school year, he said, the county would have to redistrict again in 2022 when High School 13 opens.

"I don't want to put the county through two redistricting [processes]," Martirano said.

To provide some relief at the high school level for the upcoming year, Martirano proposed expanding the JumpStart initiative, which allows high school students to take community college classes under dual enrollment, in an effort to attract students away from overcrowded high schools and to increase enrollment at under-capacity high schools.

Early college programs are currently offered at Oakland Mills High and the Applications and Research Lab, where students can earn up to two years of college credits while paying half the tuition.

Martirano proposed expanding the program offerings at Oakland Mills High and introducing programs at River Hill High. The two schools rank among those with the least overcrowding problems. Martirano said about 350 students would then voluntarily move from Long Reach, Centennial and Howard high schools, the county's most overcrowded high schools. This also helps create a partnership between the public school system and Howard Community College, Martirano said.

"As we're bringing the capacity down at those three overcrowded schools, I'm now increasing capacity at the two lowest schools at the high school level," Martirano said. "I will provide transportation for those students to move from those three high schools to the two high schools. … There's enticement because it's providing a different set of course offerings that are not provided at their current schools."

William Barnes, the school system's chief academic officer, said every high school in Howard County offers some college-level courses. The early college program — a STEM program — was introduced at Oakland Mills High two years ago, with about 40 students enrolled.

Martirano's recommendation would allow high school students to effectively graduate with 60 college credits and begin their college years as juniors, Barnes said.

"We're going to work with teams to figure out what programs of interest might exist," Barnes said. "While kids can pick up four or five college courses at other schools, Oakland Mills and River Hill will have upward of 20 courses available to students. It's an incredible savings to families and students."

Offering alternatives to ease crowding in county schools [Commentary]

Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano writes about his plan for redistricting Howard County public schools, which was presented to the Board of Education Oct. 3.

Martirano said these program implementations were successful during his time as superintendent of schools in St. Mary's County.

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"We were able to offer better programs and balanced enrollments at the same time," he said. "This has got a history of success in other districts. It's just something that Howard County has chosen not to do at an accelerated level."

Collaborative Community Plan

The day before Martirano's presentation, the community group United for HoCo Schools released its alternative plan for balancing enrollment in Howard County schools, with ideas such as open enrollment and partial redistricting.

Titled the "Collaborative Community Plan," Cynthia Fikes, one of the plan's authors and a member of the group, said they saw a lack of community outreach and transparency by the school board and Attendance Area Committee during the process of analyzing possible solutions for redistricting.

Their plan called for opening not only High School 13 in 2022, but a 14th high school in 2023, and stops comprehensive redistricting except at the elementary school level until after the completion of High School 13.

As an alternative to large-scale redistricting, the plan includes the implementation of open enrollment at the high school level, which would allow students to apply for attendance at a high school outside their school district in the county, as long as the desired building is below school capacity level.

"Elementary redistricting needs to happen, that's moving forward. We're looking at stopping the major disruption until we have some knowns in place," Fikes said. "There is no happy answer to redistricting, but at least people need a voice."

Martirano's final recommendations clashed with the Attendance Area Committee's latest findings to "scale back" the countywide redistricting, moving 10 percent of students at all school levels — about 5,656 students. The committee still suggested a countywide comprehensive redistricting, but limited high school redistricting to only incoming ninth-graders, unless they had an older sibling already attending that high school.

The AAC proposed that limiting redistricting to elementary schools would accommodate the opening of Elementary School 42 in August 2018 in Hanover and relieve overcrowding in schools that are above 120 percent capacity – a max capacity set by school board policy.

Howard County Times reporter Kate Magill contributed to this story.



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