Anne Arundel school board members eager to make good on campaign promises

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

Almost one month after the historic election, Wednesday marked the first day on the job for five new Anne Arundel County school board members.

For the first time in county history, there are four elected members on the school board: Candace Antwine, Dist. 1; Melissa Ellis, Dist. 4; Dana Schallheim, Dist. 5; and Michelle Corkadel, Dist. 7.

Robert Leib, who was selected to serve by the School Board Appointment Committee, also got his first taste of life behind the dais on Wednesday.

In a meeting where schools Superintendent George Arlotto submitted his redistricting plan for Crofton-area schools, the new members were eager to make good on their promises from the campaign trail.

Schallheim swiftly passed a motion to discuss cell phone towers after running on an anti-cell tower platform. A large group of people from the Shady Side area, where cell tower company Milestone Communications has set its sights on the elementary school, were present to testify on the newly added agenda item.

“I urge you to vote Milestone out of Shady Side Elementary School and out of Anne Arundel County Public Schools,” said Linda Nguyen, a parent, during the public comment portion of the cell phone tower discussion.

Nguyen blasted the company for holding a community meeting last week without telling the school board.

“It appears that this board is allowing this company to do as it pleases, without regard to the children of our school and the school community,” she said.

Antwine, who emphasized the county’s need to address bullying and discrimination while campaigning, proposed the board begin soliciting monthly anti-bullying, diversity and inclusion, school safety and inclusion, school safety and security, and transportation reports. The motion won the board’s approval.

“I think this is a blessing. The opportunity is a blessing,” Antwine said about her first day.

In a seven-hour-long meeting, board members also approved six new courses, reviewed newly released state educational data, and discussed the future of Crofton High School — slated to open in 2020.

Arlotto in September tasked the 18-member Crofton Redistricting Committee to develop a recommendation that will ultimately affect 1,350 high school students. The Crofton Redistricting Committee submitted its recommendation to Arlotto in late October.

With the exception of some timing adjustments, Arlotto’s recommendation is nearly identical to the one put forth by the committee.

The most notable changes are in Arlotto’s recommendation to delay some actions due to “transportation-related issues associated with the extended grandfathering.”

Arlotto’s proposal also postpones some of the redistricting actions to the 2020-2021 school year, which will allow for the installation of permanent or temporary classrooms, if needed.

Jonathan Boniface, chair of the redistricting committee and a longtime advocate for Crofton High School said the group tried to please as many people as possible with its proposal.

“We looked at an issue that was almost impossible,” Boniface said. “ There’s no way to get this to be perfect.”

Several parents waited nearly six hours for the opportunity to weigh in on Arlotto’s recommendation. Families with children at Piney Orchard Elementary School shared concerns about overcrowding at the school and suggested the board consider Option 4 LJ, one of the eight other options the Crofton Redistricting Committee developed.

Although the seemingly looming threat of overcrowding is already a reality for most schools in the Crofton area. Every school affected by the redistricting plan is either nearing or past capacity, according to enrollment data.

“The county, in totality, is growing,” said Alex Szachnowicz, schools chief operating officer. “There’s also a contemplation of another high school.

The school board now has until January to decide whether it will move the recommendation to public hearing.

These are the actions Arlotto introduced to the board Wednesday:

  • Redistrict the Nantucket, Crofton Meadows and Crofton elementary school attendance zones on the east side of Rt. 3 to Crofton High at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year
  • Redistrict students in the Riverwalk at Crofton community to Crofton Woods Elementary, Crofton Middle and Crofton High schools in the 2020-2021 school year
  • Move South River High School students in the Crofton Meadows and Crofton Woods elementary school areas to Crofton High School in the 2020-21 school year
  • Redistricted Arundel and South River high school students will be phased in at Crofton High School by grade level. Ninth- and tenth-grade students will attend the new school the 2020-21 school year. By the 2022-23 school year, students in grades 9 through 12 affected by new district lines will attend Crofton High
  • Crofton Elementary and Crofton Middle school students in the Two Rivers/Forks of the Patuxent and Waugh Chapel communities will be temporarily displaced to Piney Orchard Elementary and Arundel Middle Schools in the 2020-2021 school year until West County Elementary School open. These students currently attend Arundel High School

As the board considers which students should attend which Crofton schools, it is also considering what goes on inside those schools in light of newly released state educational accountability data that was released Tuesday.

Anne Arundel County schools trail neighboring counties and lag behind statewide average, according to a new rating system that awards schools between one and five stars based on performance indicators like standardized test scores, progress in achieving language proficiency for English learners, and college readiness.

But the school district did make gains in elementary and middle school access to and credit for a well-rounded curriculum; high school graduation rate; high school credit for a well-rounded curriculum; and the number of ninth graders who are on track to move on to tenth grade.

Though, the district did suffer because officials were not able to accurately report fifth-grade health course data. While students did receive the instruction, the way the data was tracked was not consistent with state standards.

Officials anticipate that when the district starts reporting that data next year, most schools’ ratings will increase by one or two stars.

School board President Julie Hummer said 14 out of 24 school districts in the state had similar issues.

She also shared concerns about the report.

“I don’t think it gives enough credit to our schools that are making really good progress,” Hummer said. “I don’t think it addresses equity enough, which is something that is a real focus for us.”

The board also unanimously approved six new high school courses. Administrators will have the option to offer some, all or none of the classes.

The county will introduce the new visual arts, logic-based and music education courses next school year.

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