To county school officials, "under-enrollments" dictate the need for "staffing adjustments." To second-grader Samuel Leslie, they mean the teacher who made going to school fun this year won't be there to welcome him tomorrow morning.
Samuel, the 7-year-old son of Steve and Jean Leslie, attends Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia. His teacher is being transferred because enrollment at Thunder Hill this fall fell short of the county school system ratio of one teacher to 25 students.
Other schools likely to be affected are Atholton and Waterloo elementary, Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake middle. James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for instruction and administration, said decisions on the four schools are not final and some may finish out the year with their existing faculties.
The number of teacher transfers is higher this year than in the last several years, McGowan said. He recalled no transfers because of low enrollments in the last school year.
This school year also marks the first time in several years that elementary schools have been affected, said Marius Ambrose, Maryland State Teachers Association representative for Howard County. Most involuntary transfers in recent years have been from high to middle schools, he said.
At Thunder Hill, Steve Leslie said his son had a tough time in first grade last year, but hit it off well with second-grade teacher Nancy McLaughlin this fall.
"He looks forward to going to school now and does his homework with enthusiasm," the father said.
Thunder Hill parents received a notice from Principal C. Anthony Yount Oct. 24 that McLaughlin would be transferred to Dasher Green Elementary School Nov. 5 to fill a second-grade vacancy there.
Thunder Hill had 15 teachers and 351 students, a ratio of 1 to 23. To bring the ratio up to 1 to 25 would have required an additional 25 students.
"It is easy to see that we are under-enrolled for our current allocation," the principal said in his message to parents.
Yount refused to discuss details of the transfer, such as how he plans to reorganize classes to absorb McLaughlin's students.
Steve Leslie said he found other Thunder Hill parents sad at the loss of the teacher, but generally resigned. Nancy Yee, PTA president, reported a similar response.
"The only thing from parents is sadness that it has to be this late in the semester," Yee said.
McGowan said the teacher transfer decisions this year are no later than usual. He said schools on the list were tentatively scheduled for teacher losses based on their Sept. 30 enrollments, but final action will be based on the Oct. 30 enrollment.
"If a school is 25 (students) out of line, you're sure it's not going to make up the difference in one month," McGowan said. "If it's marginal and we made a decision on the original count, we could be in the position of taking a teacher away one month and restoring one the next month."
McGowan said final decisions on schools with marginal enrollments could depend on how much reorganization is necessary to effect the change. He said the administration tries to accommodate elementary schools by leaving teachers in place "unless enrollment is really out of line."
Asked by Thunder Hill parents to check into the situation, school board Vice Chairman Deborah D. Kendig said she understood the parents' feelings, having had a child who had difficulty adjusting to school.
"I understand that it's very stressful for second-graders to have to have new teachers. I have sympathy and empathy for the parents and kids. I don't know what we can do about it. I wish there was a simple solution," she said.
Kendig said the school system doesn't have the money to allow teachers to remain in schools with low enrollments and also provide staff for schools in which class sizes are above the guidelines.
Teachers have been transferred in recent years from high schools, in which enrollment has generally been stable, to the middle schools, which have begun to feel the impact of the county's development boom.
Teacher union representative Ambrose also recalled that home economics and business education teachers have been shifted from high schools because of declining enrollments in those subjects.
Parents at the other schools that may be affected have not yet been notified of the changes or have not had time to react.
At Harper's Choice Middle School, Principal Jesse Scharff said he planned to notify the PTA before the end of school last week. The county guideline for middle schools is one teacher for each 20.5 students.
Harper's Choice, with a Sept. 30 enrollment of 633 and 32 classroom teachers, has an average of 19.7 students to one teacher.
Wilde Lake Middle School will not be affected until December, and Principal Jesse Smith said he plans a transition that will affect just 34 of the school's 512 students.
Smith said that when a reading teacher retires in December, he will transfer a mathematics teacher who has experience in teaching reading to her position, and relocate 34 students now in the math teacher's skills class to another math class.
"I anticipate that it will be very smooth," he said. Smith said he now has an average of one teacher for 23.5 students, but only one per 18.9 students in the language arts.
At Waterloo Elementary School, Principal Madrainne F. Johnson said she had not yet developed a plan to accommodate the prospective loss of a teacher and refused to discuss the subject further. Waterloo PTA President Sheryl Johnson said she had not heard anything about the transfer.
Atholton Elementary School principal Barry Taylor could not be reached for comment.