Jennie Bowman, a 12-year-old at crowded George Fox Middle School in Pasadena, worries that she will lose friends if they are sent to Chesapeake Bay Middle School in a proposed redistricting plan that could start in September.
Some educators think redistricting could ease crowding, but some parents fear their children may have a hard time adjusting to unfamiliar teachers and classmates, a new school building and a longer commute to Chesapeake Bay Middle, about five miles east along traffic-filled Mountain Road.
"It is impossible in a matter of redistricting not to have some people in favor of it and some people against it," said Thomas W. Rhoades, the county school system's director of program planning.
He's urging residents to bring their concerns to a hearing before the Anne Arundel County school board at 6: 30 p.m. tomorrow at Northeast High School.
The school board will hear the public's suggestions about redistricting. Other communities in the county also will be grappling with it in coming weeks.
The issue in Pasadena is how to reduce enrollment at a packed school without burdening the affected students and parents.
"People who feel strongly either way should come out," Rhoades said.
"The board sits, listens, jots notes, then decides in a later meeting what it wishes to do," he said.
He said the board is expected to determine in April whether to go forward with the plan proposed by county school Superintendent Carol S. Parham.
Her solution is to funnel 270 middle school students each year from two George Fox Middle feeder schools -- all children from Riviera Beach Elementary and some from Sunset Elementary -- to Chesapeake Bay Middle, then send them back to Northeast High, where George Fox Middle students go.
Some parents and students object to the plan.
"I think probably the biggest concern that everyone has is that [students will] be going to a new school for three years and make new friends, then go back to a school with people they've been separated from for three years," said Carol Kemp, PTA president at Fort Smallwood Elementary, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay Middle.
Other parents said that the drive will slow them down in the morning and that their children might have a hard time making new sets of friends twice.
Watching friends go
And Jennie Bowman, who would not be transferred, said students at George Fox Middle are talking a lot about the proposed solution -- and not happily.
Two of Jennie's classmates would go to Chesapeake Bay Middle without her.
"I really wish they could stay because they're really good friends," she said sadly. "I don't think it's fair."
But Kevin I. Dennehy, the principal of George Fox Middle, says the plan would make that school safer and more comfortable for the students who remain.
The school is filled to capacity with 1,053 students, he said. Some spend most of their day in portable classrooms, bumping into each other in the halls, using a student activities room for gym and eating lunch at 10 a.m. to alleviate cafeteria crowding.
"We're at our breaking point," he said.
The problem could get worse. County planners predict a population boom in that part of Pasadena because new subdivisions are going up now; by 2001, about 1,400 students are expected to be enrolled, Dennehy said.
He added that the two schools are similar academically, but Chesapeake Bay Middle is larger and has two buildings, modified open classrooms and German classes, while George Fox Middle has self-contained classrooms and offers computer tutoring sessions to eighth-graders.
Chesapeake Bay Middle Principal Charity D. McClellan said: "We'll be happy to have whatever children. Whatever the board decides, we'll make the accommodations."
Those would include tearing down walls to make smaller classrooms and getting about a dozen more teachers to keep the student-teacher ratio at 22-to-1.
Pub Date: 2/23/97