School dissatisfaction was a long time building
I am writing in regard to your articles on the departure of students from Wilde Lake Middle School.
If you had investigated, you would have found that the real problems at Wilde Lake have only tangentially been caused by racial attitudes.
Instead, they can be squarely put on the shoulders of the Howard County school administration, which started the problem by removing talent from the staff to provide for its new schools just as the school population was shifting in composition; refusing to take action to bring in new students despite a declining enrollment; and failing to provide the leadership the school needed at a critical time.
I am a Clemens Crossing parent who has been involved with Wilde Lake Middle since 1994. My daughter went there from 1994 to 1998, and my son is one of the Clemens Crossing students who entered Wilde Lake this year.
Here are the facts The Sun missed:
First, this has happened before. In 1995 , almost 20 students, mostly incoming sixth-graders, left the school for Burleigh Manor Middle through open enrollment. Headlines in the local newspaper were just like yours. However, the articles then revealed that Wilde Lake had had three principals in five years, with two principals pulled out to open new schools. The third principal had just begun in January 1995. This departure caused the county administration to declare Wilde Lake "protected" the following year and to keep it that way for four years.
It is common practice in Howard to open new schools by selecting an experienced administrator from an existing school to head the new staff, and allowing him or her to take a number of teachers from the former school. These principals select from the best and strongest of their staff. After the first year, a number of other teachers follow. This process, having happened to Wilde Lake twice drained the school of much needed talent at a critical time.
Second, the Howard County school administration fails to solve problems at existing schools or provide enough resources to compete with newer schools for either teachers or students.
Following the 1995 event, Clemens Crossing parents, to try to support the school. They wrote letters to get more resources. They lobbied the county administration. Parents worked on the newsletter to try to improve one of the school's failings, communication with parents. Promises were made, but the changes were minimal. The much-needed and long-awaited building renovation was delayed a year. Both school staff and parents became increasingly demoralized. At the end of that year, more than half of the staff requested transfer. The response was to do very little for two more years.
Third, the county administration should long ago have dealt with declining enrollment at Wilde Lake, but avoided making the hard decisions that were necessary. Clemens Crossing, which used to supply a substantial portion of the students at Wilde Lake Middle, is an aging neighborhood, and there is no new housing development anywhere in the Wilde Lake school district.
During the four years that Wilde Lake was a protected school because of under enrollment, Clarksville Middle next door mushroomed to the point that students could barely move through the halls. According to news reports, even with the opening of Lime Kiln Middle, Clarksville is still over capacity, with new housing in its district being built at a furious pace. If under-enrollment was the reason for Wilde Lake's protected status, why wasn't some of that overcapacity shifted to Wilde Lake Middle?
Fourth, the disparity between the facilities provided to new schools and to older schools is huge.
Just read The Sun's article about the opening of Lime Kiln. See the description of computers with Internet access in every room, the equipment in the computer lab. It's no surprise that parents and teachers flock to the new schools.
Finally, at least part of the problem stems from the fact that Wilde Lake is not a natural school for Clemens Crossing students to attend. In a sense Lime Kiln is as much a neighborhood school for Clemens as Wilde Lake.
Clemens Crossing Elementary used to be a feeder for Clarksville Middle, but thanks to the crazy-quilt of Howard County redistricting, Clemens fifth-graders are split into three different middle schools. The Clemens neighborhood immediately around the school goes to Wilde Lake; students around Cedar Lane and in Rivers Edge stayed at Clarksville until this year, but now are districted for Lime Kiln; a third, smaller group goes to Harpers Choice.
The Clemens students are the only Wilde Lake Middle students who will not go to Wilde Lake High. They come back to Atholton, in the center of Clemens Crossing, where they will rejoin the Clemens students who were sent to Lime Kiln. This ripping apart of friendships made at each level is hard on kids and parents, and makes it easier for parents not happy with the middle school to decide to go elsewhere.
So why is my son attending Wilde Lake?
Because when the school board stripped the administration of the power to keep Wilde Lake Middle protected another year, it finally started moving to give the school resources, appointing a strong principal and giving her unusual authority to recruit experienced teachers to fill the nearly 20 vacancies which the school had at the end of the year. For this and other personal reasons, I decided Wilde Lake is better for my son.
However, I'm praying that the board does not return the school to protected status. I'm pleased with the school, with the leadership of Principal Brenda Thomas and Assistant Principal Tom Saunders, and with the changes I've already seen in the first several weeks.
If only this kind of attention had been paid years ago, the school could have been well on its way to excellence, and open spots at Lime Kiln would have held fewer attractions.
Linda Shields, Columbia
Horse center: Who is paying for whom?
Your articles about the Columbia Horse Center proposed that Columbia residents were subsidizing the riding center for the use of non-residents, because the "slight" majority of users are non-residents.
When you put a pencil to the numbers, which The Sun neglected to do, it works out to an entirely different picture: Lessons are $24 per resident and $29 per non-resident; board for a horse is $435 per resident and $465 per non-resident. A non-resident taking two lessons per week (which a lot do) and boarding a horse pays $880 more per year to use the facility than a resident.
One-hundred percent of that money goes to the Columbia Horse Center as opposed to a resident paying a Columbia Association assessment, on average $550 per year, with 1 penny of its CA tax going toward subsidizing the facility. This is before participation in camps, clinics and shows.
Who is subsidizing whom?
Diedra Schaefer, Arnold
The writer is a long-time user of the Columbia Horse Center.
Village centers: going, going, gone?
I noticed a sizable ad in The Sun on Aug. 24 suggesting that Columbia residents shop at the village centers.
This ad was supposed to emphasize the personal appearance/health angle, listing appropriate stores at most village centers.
Of the seven centers with listed stores, only one, Wilde Lake, does not show a supermarket. The last time I looked there was one at Wilde Lake, albeit rather smallish. Does this portend the end of Giant at Wilde Lake? Not long ago an article heralded the arrival of a butcher shop and bakery at Wilde Lake. I can't find the bakery -- I believe it was replaced by a manicurist -- and the "butcher shop" seems more for the wealthy than fixed-income people.
Wilde Lake is not alone in losing stores. Harper's Choice recently lost its Spanish-style restaurant. There always seems to be empty spaces in most centers.
Perhaps someone could keep us up to date with the numerous comings and goings at village centers and help return these areas from lounges for smokers to "some of the best shopping Columbia has to offer."
R. D. Bush, Columbia
... and signs were ignored
I would like to respond to the articles about the parents who are busing their kids out of Wilde Lake Middle School to Lime Kiln Middle.
Good for them. My neighborhood had a good school that has been run into the ground for years. My kids stayed so I could fight to help the school. I was one of the old guard who had seen it when it was well-run. It changed a lot. Many of the parents who were so involved pulled out their kids or moved.
At first, I was angry with them. Then I realized that our school was getting no help from the school board, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey or anyone else.
The only article The Sun wrote was one bashing the whites for pulling out their kids (just like this one). The newspaper didn't notice that whites weren't the only ones pulling their kids.
We told the school board to look at the large staff turnover. Somehow, Dr. Hickey downplayed the numbers. Parents asked for a meeting about their concerns. They were treated rudely and ignored.
To anyone who isn't happy with his school, don't count on Howard County to help. We were told that "it's the kids." Then we were told we lost some excellent teachers to involuntary transfers. The students deserve better then what this county is giving them. Next time look at the facts; check the test scores and teacher transfer rate. Then you'll see it's not the racial blend of a community. It's the school itself.
Donna Thewes, North Laurel