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Many community members and county officials say they were "impressed" by Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano's school redistricting recommendations, which include halting redistricting at the high school level until a new school opens in 2022 and limiting elementary and middle school redistricting.

In his presentation to the Board of Education Tuesday, Martirano said the county's three most overcrowded high schools – Long Reach, Centennial and Howard – would see some relief by expanding the JumpStart initiative that allows high school students to take community college classes under dual enrollment. The early college programs would expand at Oakland Mills and be introduced at River Hill, attracting students to those under-capacity schools.

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Under Martirano's plan, redistricting at the middle school level would be limited to approximately 313 students, while about 1,922 elementary students would move to fill Elementary School 42, bringing 37 elementary schools below or within building capacity.

On Wednesday, Board of Education Chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt said the board will continue reviewing Martirano's recommendations as well as feedback and input from the community as they develop "a reasonable and logical plan."

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"Everything is on the table, including programming changes and other innovative options," Vaillancourt said. "Our goal is to balance capacity utilization and provide effective and equitable learning environments for all of our students. We are counting on the continued participation and engagement of the community to help us do that."

According to Martirano's proposal, the most significant number of elementary school students, 418 students, would move from Ducketts Lane to Elementary School 42. Students at Deep Run and Rockburn elementaries would also move to help fill the new elementary school.

Other moves among elementary schools include 192 students from Clemens Crossing to Pointers Run; 158 students from Bryant Woods to Longfellow; and 145 students from Manor Woods to Bushy Park.

At the middle school level, Martirano proposed 129 students from Lime Kiln be redistricted to Clarksville Middle, with additional student moves from Harper's Choice to Wilde Lake; Mount View to Folly Quarter; and Mayfield Woods to Elkridge middle schools.

While recognizing that decisions on redistricting are made by the school system and Board of Education, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said, "I appreciate Dr. Martirano's efforts to relieve overcrowding without disrupting communities."

County council chairman Jon Weinstein called the recommendations "reasonable," and said he hopes to see the last phase of the redistricting process carried out with as much opportunity for public input as possible.

Jolene Mosley, one of the authors of citizen group United for HoCo Schools' alternative "Collaborative Community Plan," said she was pleased overall by Martirano's recommendations, and that she was particularly excited about Martirano's idea to expand the JumpStart initiative, as it would give more students a chance to participate in new opportunities.

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The community group United for HoCo Schools has released its alternative plan for the county’s future, with ideas such as open enrollment and partial redistricting.

"It opens up some opportunities for many families," Mosley said. "I think that's wonderful because as we know every child operates differently, so it's really powerful for a child to really take hold of what their learning is."

While Mosley said she agrees with Martirano on the need to halt redistricting at the high school level, she believes his recommendation to move approximately 313 middle school students is too high. She said based on her work on the community plan, only about half of those students would need to move.

Mosley said Martirano's recommendations for elementary schools are appropriate and would help adjust feeds of students from the elementary to middle schools.

Moving forward, Mosley said she hopes to see the superintendent address how the school system will transport students to their new schools, and the cost to families for participation in the JumpStart college program.

"I really think it's a great idea, it's a good step forward to a solution," she said.

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Ellicott City parent Pankaj Shivpuje said although he appreciates the "hard work" of the Attendance Area Committee and Martirano, the interim superintendent's final recommendations will send Shivpuje's community to an elementary school that's further away.

Shivpuje, whose son is in kindergarten at Manor Woods Elementary, said the proposed redistricting would send the Turf Valley community to Bushy Park — about 15 minutes away. Manor Woods is one of the county's most overcrowded elementary schools. The committee's prior recommendations still redistricted the community, Shivpuje said, but to nearby West Friendship Elementary.

"It was within 7 to 8 minutes, but we still had the ties to the community and our kids could get together in that community," Shivpuje said. "The superintendent's recommendations completely do away with the process we have been following so far from the Attendance Area Committee, which we were supporting. The proposal that Dr. Martirano put together completely caught us off guard."

Drew Roth, an Elkridge parent, said Martirano is "not doing is job" by halting high school redistricting. Roth said his student, who currently attends Elkridge Landing Middle, will not be affected by the middle school redistricting, but would end up at Howard High in three years.

"That's two years before the new school can be built," Roth said. "[Martirano's proposal] means that for five years, [high school] students have to endure overcrowding and that's not equitable, not fair and not acceptable."

The JumpStart initiative isn't a bad idea, Roth said, but doesn't address the immediate problem of overcrowded high schools. If implemented, Howard, Centennial and Long Reach high schools would still fall outside the target building capacity at about 126 percent, 115 percent and 112 percent, respectively.

"Redistrict. Follow the policy," Roth said. "I think that you can do a more restricted redistricting to deal with the more immediate, critical overcrowding at the most overcrowded schools. The comprehensive redistricting was trying to make sure that there were no schools under capacity. You don't have to be that extreme about it."

Howard Community College will support the school system's JumpStart initiative, said college president Kathleen Hetherington, and more than double the community college's capacity for dual enrollment options. HCC is currently involved in the early college programs at Oakland Mills High and the Applications and Research Lab, where students can take cyber security and STEM courses, respectively.

"We are proud to provide our students access to advanced learning opportunities and enhance college and career readiness countywide," Hetherington said. "Dual enrollment can provide students the ability to get a jump on their college education, earn industry certifications or learn trades for jobs beyond high school. Through our continued partnership, we can achieve our shared vision to provide equitable opportunities for all Howard County children."

In his presentation Tuesday, Martirano said his proposed solutions to redistricting proved effective in other counties in the state, including St. Mary's County, where he served as superintendent from 2005 to 2014.

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Brad Clements, St. Mary's deputy superintendent under Martirano, said program offerings and dual enrollment had helped alleviate overcrowding in the county when redistricting was discussed.

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.

Redistricting was completed about every two years in St. Mary's County, Clements said, while the school system also modernized its existing facilities.

"We were in the midst of great growth in the county and modernizing all of our facilities," Clements said. "We made additions and modernizations to our old facilities so that we were able to address overcrowding at the individual schools and modernize the building versus building a new school and then having to do some major redistricting."

Martirano also introduced dual enrollment programs in St. Mary's, Clements said, forming a partnership with the College of Southern Maryland. Programs featured a financial academy, STEM opportunities and a teacher's academy for future teachers.

"He had different programs that were being started and they did place them at schools mainly because they were under-enrolled and there was space you could use," he said. "By doing that, then it helped relief throughout the county. It was a redistricting method, but it was more of a program method and being able to house the program."

Although redistricting isn't "one silver bullet that answers everything," Clements said it's crucial to have community involvement.

"You have to try to minimize the impacts and make things work for the educational program but also for the families," he said.

The board will have its first public hearing to continue the redistricting process on Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. Four work sessions and a second public hearing will be held throughout November, followed by board approval on Nov. 16.



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