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Howard schools will pursue specialty programs to address crowding

The Howard County school board takes action on addressing high school crowding for the 2019-2020 academic year.
The Howard County school board takes action on addressing high school crowding for the 2019-2020 academic year. (Jess Nocera/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Howard County school board has approved expanding several specialty academic programs in an effort to shift students from crowded high schools and avert the need for a broader redistricting.

By moving students from crowded schools to those with space, and offering the programs as an enticement, the school system believes it can delay or avoid a more controversial redrawing of school attendance areas.

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However, any of the options could be scrapped or revised during the 2020 fiscal budget process and next month’s election will change the composition of the school board.

To ease crowding, nearly 300 students need to be reassigned from Centennial and between 450 and 500 students moved from Howard, the county’s two most-crowded high schools.

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For some of the options, an estimated 120 students from the two high schools would need to participate. And expanding course offerings at the county’s Applications and Research Lab high school could potentially take 50 students out of the two schools.

The estimates also are based on current participation of students in a program known as JumpStart, where high school students can take courses at Howard Community College.

JumpStart, a dual enrollment program, was partly established to relieve overcrowding at the top three crowded high schools in the county, Centennial, Howard and Long Reach.

Five of the six options that were presented during a work session earlier this month were approved at a school board meeting Thursday night.

“I happen to believe that the options being presented for programmatic things are so important for our students,” said Cindy Vaillancourt, school board chairwoman.

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The options approved include:

* Expanding JumpStart at Marriotts Ridge High School, with a focus on computer science, engineering and health professions course offerings.

* Allowing Centennial and Howard students to voluntary transfer to Glenelg or Marriotts Ridge high schools, with transportation provided by the school system.

* Providing a shuttle for total of 120 students from Howard and Centennial to finish their graduation requirements at the community college. Unlike JumpStart, this program does not allow students to graduate with 30 or 60 college credits.

The school board will take action on Oct. 18 to either move forward with proposed programming options and/or redistricting to alleviate high school crowding.

* Expanding work-based offerings for Centennial and Howard students, including additional sections of the gifted-and-talented internship and mentor programs to establish apprenticeship and site-based work experiences.

* Additional courses at the ARL could include aerospace, finance and health academics.

A proposal for a JumpStart program at Wilde Lake High School did not advance.

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