Long lines, big classes tell tale of crowded Dulaney Balto. Co. school has top academic rating, is 39% over capacity


Junior Tim Sutton has 30 minutes for lunch at Dulaney High School -- and spends at least half of it standing in line for food.

Tim isn't alone. In fact, he's in the middle of a line that snakes out of the serving area and meanders between tables midway across the cafeteria. And that's not uncommon at the Baltimore County school where two of four lunch periods have more than 500 students, who need to eat in a half-hour.

In a county of crowded schools, Dulaney is the most chronically crowded. With 1,669 students in a school built for 1,204, it's 39 percent over capacity. Only Woodmoor Elementary is more jammed -- 42.6 percent over capacity -- but it is slated for an addition soon. At Dulaney, relief is years away.

The crush is obvious everywhere: in classes that sometimes push 40 students, in gridlocked halls and in demands on five guidance counselors. Even behind the school, 10 free-standing portable classrooms accommodate about 30 students each and make up what is known as "Dulaney Trailer Park."

"It strains the building in the simplest things such as keeping it clean," said Principal Richard Gudel. "It puts strains on personnel. The numbers present a problem for my assistant principals, for my guidance counselors and for my cafeteria workers."

Nevertheless, Mr. Gudel, who became principal last summer, said the school runs smoothly, considering its numbers, and there have been far fewer fights and incidents of pushing and shoving than might be expected.

Dulaney's reputation as the county's best high school might contribute to the crowding. The school is in an upper middle-class area north of Towson, and many families have moved there because of the schools.

Dulaney also has a history of offering courses not available at other county schools. For example, it offers six foreign languages, including Russian and Japanese. And until this year, it accepted students from outside its boundaries who wanted to study subjects unavailable at their high schools.

Adding to its reputation is distinction as a national Blue Ribbon School, an honor that recognizes high achievement, innovation and involvement.

An innovation this year was to eliminate study halls, which means every student is in class every period. With study halls, "you could sort of warehouse children in large numbers somewhere," Mr. Gudel said. But no more.

He credits the faculty with maintaining the quality of instruction. Students also have adapted. Many walk outside between classes, even when they are not going to trailer classrooms. And they save places at cafeteria tables for friends stuck in food lines.

Still, crowds present problems.

Tim Sutton said his classes have grown by as many as 10 students over last year and teaching has changed. "There's more lecture. Sometimes it can be good. But in history and English you need more discussion and you can't have it because there are so many people."

Meanwhile, three computer labs are used all day for classes, cutting into time groups have to experiment with software and other technology, Mr. Gudel said.

His greatest concern, however, is not instruction, discipline or cleanliness. Rather, "it's easy to lose sight of students who are at risk," he said.

Guidance department chairman Brian Boston agreed. "It's difficult to provide attention to students who may have special needs when you have a class that's at 33 or 34 students."

Larger classes boost demands for transcripts and recommendations. Required classes fill quickly, making it impossible for some students to get courses they need. Meanwhile, Mr. Boston said, more students seek counseling for emotional problems because their families no longer have insurance coverage for such therapy.

However, crowding is not new to Dulaney. In the late 1960s, the then-new school had 2,000 students and no portable classrooms, said Louis J. Sergi, central area high school director who spent many years as a teacher and administrator at Dulaney.

"We did OK," he said. "We don't have any relief. We're just praying real hard for the addition."

But that won't be for at least five years.

School officials plan to put $8 million into the fiscal 1998 capital budget for a classroom addition. But even if that project goes as planned, the building wouldn't be completed before 2000. By then, Dulaney's enrollment will be at least 1,800, or 50 percent above capacity, if school system projections hold.

One solution would be to change the district boundaries, shifting students into Hereford High to the north and Loch Raven and Towson high schools to the south. But officials are not seriously considering that option, because it would touch off an uproar among parents of Dulaney students.

So, while Mr. Gudel waits for the extra classrooms, he looks for stopgap measures. If the school draws even more students next year, things will be all right, he said.

"We can hold classes in the auditorium lobby and upstairs in the auditorium. And, we have room for one more trailer."

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