New principals, new facility among changes to Baltimore Co. southwest schools

As students get ready to start the 2018-19 academic year after Labor Day, those in the southwestern part of the county returning to Catonsville Elementary and Johnnycake Elementary schools will be greeted by new principals, while students at Lansdowne Elementary School will have to learn how to navigate a new building.

MeLissa Powers, formerly an assistant principal at Fort Garrison Elementary School, is the new principal at Catonsville Elementary School. Linda Miller, the former principal at Catonsville, is now principal at Perry Hall Elementary School.

Patricia Collins-McCarthy, previously an assistant principal at Deer Park Elementary, takes over at Johnnycake Elementary, while Bre Fortkamp, who was principal at Johnnycake, moves on to the same role at Seven Oaks Elementary.

“The first year when you’re in a building you’re trying to learn as much as you can about the school climate and culture,” Collins-McCarthy said.

Collins-McCarthy said one of her goals for the year was highlighting the strengths and gifts of students and staff at Johnnycake Elementary.

“I want good things to be associated with our school; good things happen here,” she said. “I use Twitter a lot, just getting the message out that good things do happen here in this part of the county, and great things happen here with our kids, too.”

Still, the challenge is apparent at Johnnycake, where 23.9 percent of fifth-grade students met expectations in the standardized English/language arts PARCC test in 2017, compared with 35.2 for all of Baltimore County. For fifth-grade mathematics, 9.8 percent of Johnnycake students met expectations compared with 27 percent countywide.

Powers is entering her 16th year with the Baltimore County school system. She said she’s glad to be working in a school building that’s relatively new. Catonsville Elementary opened in 2016.

“Walking into the building I can still get the sense of things are new; the staff still feels that, there’s still that energy of having new spaces,” she said.

In the 2018-2019 school year, Powers said she and the teachers at Catonsville Elementary will be focusing on student literacy.

“Not just one block in a period of time,” she said. But, “how it applies to math, and science and social studies, taking a look at how we can provide students the ability to speak about what they learned, to speak with one another, and take it into writing.”

Among Catonsville Elementary School’s fifth-graders, 33.8 percent met expectations on the PARCC test for English/language arts last year, and in mathematics, 30.3 percent of fifth-graders met expectations.

New facilities

The new Lansdowne Elementary School is rated for about 700 seats, more than double its old capacity of 313.

The added school capacity altered boundary lines, with about 100 students from Baltimore Highlands Elementary School being redistricted to Lansdowne Elementary, according to principal Stephen Price.

“It’s great, this is the culmination of three years,” said Price, who’s entering his sixth year as principal of Lansdowne Elementary School.

Price said the new building features “extended learning areas,” which are rooms between two classrooms. The ELAs, he said, can be used for students who might need an area free from distraction to work, for small group work or for students who need additional instructional help.

The areas are walled off with glass windows for full transparency, Price said.

“The whole idea behind this whole building is nothing is set in stone,” he said. “Everything is mobile, on wheels, so teachers really have the ability to customize the classrooms.”

How teachers adapt their classroom depends on the lesson that day and allows for “personalized learning,” Price said.

“That’s what this building allows us to do,” he said.

Some 39 percent of fifth-grade students at Lansdowne Elementary in 2017 met expectations for English/language arts in the PARCC test, while for mathematics, 9.4 percent of fifth-graders met expectations.

The 90,000-plus-square-foot building includes five classrooms for each grade level, two music classrooms, an art room with a kiln and outdoor work space, a gymnasium and a cafeteria with two lunch lines.

The new, two-story building allows Lansdowne Elementary to be able to “fully accommodate school capacity” for the first time, Price said.

Schedule changes and relocatable classrooms

Only two schools in the southwest region have schedule changes for this school year, according to Brandon Oland, a spokesman for the county school system.

Arbutus Elementary School’s school day is now 9:15 a.m.-3:50 p.m., and Relay Elementary School’s schedule is now 8:55 a.m.-3:30 p.m. A full list of bell schedules for Baltimore County Public Schools can be found at https://bit.ly/2Psqs4t.

Board of Education vice chairman Nicholas Stewart said the school system may use the next year to start taking a more in-depth look at school start times.

“We already have an internal working group on that issue, but I’d like to see that come before the board in a way that will help us drive that [discussion] forward,” he said.

Oland said the 2018-2019 school year is the fourth consecutive in which the total number of portable, or relocatable, classrooms has gone down in the southwest area.

Halethorpe Elementary School, which previously had five portable classrooms, now has three, and Lansdowne Elementary, which had seven portables, no longer has any.

Chadwick Elementary School, however, went from nine portable classrooms to 10. Johnnycake Elementary, which had six portables, now has eight.

Lansdowne High School now has one relocatable classroom, which the school requested in order to support its Community School initiative, which allows the building to serve as a community hub for area residents.

In total, the southwest region has 35 relocatable classrooms, down from 47 in the 2015-2016 school year.

Lansdowne High School

One of the biggest unknowns in the southwest region is whether Lansdowne High School will, anytime soon, get a replacement building.

The Board of Education voted in May against a $60 million renovation project at the existing Lansdowne High School, in hopes of securing funding for a replacement school.

Currently, Lansdowne High School is listed as the 30th priority on the school system’s capital budget request — below replacement schools for Towson and Dulaney High schools.

At a school board work session on Aug. 21, Stewart, who represents the district in which Lansdowne High is located, said that when the board votes in September on the capital request, it may indicate a replacement school as a higher priority.

The current list reflects the order in which projects were voted on by the board, Stewart said during the Aug. 21 meeting, not necessarily what projects the board believes are most important.

Stewart is retiring from the board at the end of his term. Citizens in Council District 1 will get to vote in November between two candidates to replace him.

Continuing to push for new or renovated facilities in the southwest area will be a big priority for whoever wins, Stewart said.

“The next person in my seat has to focus on it,” Stewart said. “I can probably safely say that the majority of my time spent on the board, although it covered a wide swath of things, was spent on the school construction and redistricting questions, those are huge issues.”

He said new school facilities do more than provide flexible learning environments.

“Administrators matter, teachers matter, parents matter, but so do facilities and brick and mortar,” Stewart said. “I think we raise expectations significantly when we build buildings like [Lansdowne Elementary].”

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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