DEPENDING ON your vantage point, one, two or even three new high schools are opening in Howard County for the 1996-97 school year that begins Monday. The one unquestionably new school is Long Reach High, which is launching its maiden year as the home of the "Lightning."
In reality, this also is the first year for River Hill High, but students and faculty of Wilde Lake High broke in the school's building when it was new and used it for two years while their own facility was being re-built.
Wilde Lake is Columbia's oldest school; its 1971 building was demolished and a new structure that rose from the ashes is opening for a new generation of Wildecats. The school's staff has packed its belongings from River Hill and settled into its permanent home.
Not all the schools are new in the truest sense of the word. But these additions are welcome news for the county's public education system. There are now 10 public high schools in Howard, serving 10,700 students. New school construction seems like a constant in the county, with one of the fastest growing pupil populations in a state with one of the fastest growing pupil populations in the nation. The three high school buildings, all located in the villages for which they are named, cost $80 million. And the county is opening a new elementary school, Ilchester, in Ellicott City.
All this growth has not come without pain. Shifts and sprouts in county population that brought the need for more schools to relieve overburdened ones have led to major redistricting battles, sometimes filled with socio-economic overtones. The most notorious of these came in 1993 in a dispute over the boundary between Centennial and Wilde Lake high schools. Fortunately, the process went more smoothly last year when 1,400 students were redistricted to accommodate Long Reach High. That school and River Hill have generated interest countywide, in part because they are sites for a new technology-magnet program. It is designed to prepare students for careers ranging from mechanics to medicine.
This school year is noteworthy for another reason. High school enrollment is expected to level off in 12 years. This could make the current crop of kindergartners the county's last class of rising enrollment for a long time.
Pub Date: 8/23/96