Schools of thought differ on reopening Sudbrook

December 13, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

If you ask Yasmin Stokes how reopening Sudbrook Middle School would best serve Baltimore County students, the special education teacher and mother of two acknowledges that she's torn.

Ms. Stokes' children, who attend nearby Bedford Elementary, would benefit if Sudbrook were reopened as a "magnet school" with a curriculum geared toward special interests, such as science and math, foreign languages, or the arts.

But as a special education teacher, Ms. Stokes worries that the cost of running a new magnet school might affect the youngsters she sees in the classroom every day.

"As a parent, I would love for my children to have that opportunity," she said at a community meeting on the issue this week. "But as an educator I have to think about other children."

That's one of many issues that concern Pikesville parents and students as school Superintendent Stuart Berger decides whether to reopen Sudbrook as a community school or a special magnet institution.

The school was closed in 1981 with the end of the baby boom, and the building has served a variety of educational and recreational missions since then.

Dr. Berger has formed a committee to solicit opinions and recommend a plan, and Ms. Stokes was one of about 50 parents and commu

nity members who attended the first of six public meetings.

Students from the area now attend Pikesville Middle School, which has a countywide academic reputation and is popular with parents.

But Pikesville, with 1,107 students, is now 111 over capacity and likely to get more crowded in the next few years.

When the school department began floating plans last year to reopen Sudbrook as a neighborhood school, or as an annex to Pikesville Middle and overcrowded neighborhood elementary schools, many parents objected.

Sudbrook straddles the boundary between county schools that are mostly black and schools that are mostly white, and talk of reopening it revived a controversy over the school's racial makeup, and whether it would draw predominantly black students.

Parents were so upset last year that Pikesville's councilman, Melvin G. Mintz, a 2nd District Democrat, tried to get $500,000 slated for Sudbrook's renovation removed from the county's capital budget.

The money remained, but only after the school department promised

to solicit community opinion before deciding what to do with the school.

Enrollment projections from the school system's planning department don't support reopening Sudbrook strictly as a neighborhood middle school, at least if overcrowding is the issue.

Pikesville Middle is currently the only middle school in the area that is over capacity, and the nearest middle schools, Old Court and Woodlawn, are well under capacity.

If Sudbrook were reopened with its old boundaries, only 350 children would be transferred from Pikesville Middle to Sudbrook.

That would solve Pikesville's problem, but leave Sudbrook about 500 students under capacity.

Furthermore, Sudbrook's new population would be 73 percent minority.

That would violate federal guidelines that say new school populations can't depart from systemwide racial proportions by more than 20 percentage points.

Baltimore County schools are 25 percent minority systemwide, which means no new boundaries can be drawn to create a school that has more than 45 percent minority students or less than 5 percent. Any new Sudbrook boundary would have to capture more than half of Pikesville's students before its minority population would drop to the 45 percent limit, an unlikely situation.

As a countywide or regional magnet school, Sudbrook could draw enough students voluntarily from Pikesville to eliminate overcrowding there, as well as from overcrowded middle schools in other areas.

But using Sudbrook as a magnet school also has its detractors.

While some parents said they were excited by something other than business as usual, others feared the school would be open only to academic achievers, and that students who have trouble learning would be overlooked.

"We do not want to see a school where you have just the elite

students," said Wyatt Coger, of the Education Coalition of Organizations, an advocacy group that speaks for minority students. If the administration is determined to open a magnet school, he said, it should accept a broader range of students.

Scott Barhight, chairman of the Sudbrook committee, said the panel hasn't yet determined what kind of school Sudbrook will be and certainly hasn't made any decisions about a magnet school's program, boundaries or admission policies.

The volunteer committee, which is made up of community members, parents and school officials, will present its recommendations to the school board by March 1.

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