Panel Tries To Pick The Pupils For New Fallston Middle

Redistricting Group Trying For Convenience

January 06, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

For once, school redistricting in Harford County just might make sense. At least that's the hope of a redistricting committee deciding which pupils will go to the new Fallston Middle School.

But it has not been easy putting together a plan.

In the past, children have sometimes been forced to bypass local schools to fulfill redistricting requirements.

But the Fallston Middle redistricting committee has this slogan, chairman John Gaughan III says: "No child will cross the path of one school to attend schoolat another."

Just how the panel will manage that is what it has been trying to hammer out for several months.

The 29 members hope to decide on a few options before presenting a report to the Board of Education on Feb. 11, Gaughan says.

Plans call for 630 to 785 youngsters to attend the middle school, slated to open in fall 1993.

Pupils for the new school would be drawn from the Bel Air, Southamptonand Fallston middle schools districts. Children from Youth's BenefitElementary School would feed into the new


The committee can send Fallston Middle graduates to Bel Air, C. Milton Wright or Fallston high schools.

"We're trying to achieve a region-wide balancewithin the area," Gaughan says. "Currently Bel Air High is near capacity, C. Milton Wright is almost 20 percent over capacity and Fallston is almost a third under capacity. The goal is to provide the most efficient capacity use in each of the three high schools."

The committee plans to offer at least two alternatives for getting a student body and an administration established for the school "so the board has some choices to work with," Gaughan says.

One controversial suggestion under debate by the committee would place middle school classes and pupils within Fallston High while the middle school is under construction.

The suggestion would keep the middle school, including added sixth-graders, inside the high school for one year before thenew school is built.

"The younger students can be physically isolated within the school facilities, and this would give us a year to get a working faculty and administration that can move easily into thenew school," Gaughan says.

Seventh- and eighth-graders already attend middle school at Fallston High, but adding the sixth-graders in an expanded middle school within the high school has some parents worried.

Parents have expressed concern that they don't want their sixth-graders in proximity with 18-year-old high school students, Gaughan says.

County PTA president Victoria Kornick -- whose children have been redistricted three times since she moved to the county -- says her son wasn't ready for the high school atmosphere when he entered Fallston in the seventh grade.

"I don't think sixth-graders are ready for middle school anyway," she says. "They're elementary students. We need to give them a chance to be a kid."

The Fallston situation exacerbates the problem, Kornick says, because "when you attend seventh grade you're thrown into Fallston High. The whole atmosphere is high school. The middle school doesn't have its own identity."

Gaughan says the high school's physical design, which includes isolated clusters of up to 10 classrooms each, means the sixth-graders would have minimum contact with the high school students.

"There have been strongly expressed concerns about the sixth-graders, and that has yet to be addressed," he says.

Gaughan's redistricting committeeincludes four representatives from each middle and high school involved, along with several advisers from the central school system, suchas the executive director of secondary education, John Bator. The county Parent-Teacher Association and John Archer School also are represented.

"We're doing our best to get everybody's input early on, so we don't have to re-invent the wheel when we're finished," Gaughan says.

Pat Jones, a committee member from the County Council of PTAs, says the committee has been working through the options "as hard as we can and considering all the different sides. We think we all understand them, and our next meeting we hope to dig in and make some decisions."

Gaughan says it won't be easy to finish the work by February, but he thinks doing so is a must.

"An adequate faculty and busing plan need to be in place at least a year before the physical opening of the school," he says.

So far, many parents and community members have contacted the committee with a variety of questions and fears, Gaughan says.

"We've modified certain portions of the proposals based on their concerns. We would rather do it now. Change that involves children always meets with a great deal of appropriate concern, and we want to be sensitive."

But he hopes that by the time the alternatives are presented to the board and public hearings are held, most everybody will be in agreement.

"We want to talk now, so there's a minimum of controversy then," he says.

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