School districts decision looms

March 22, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Bob Kaufman moved to Columbia five years ago, buying into the new town's vision of people living in close-knit communities.

It baffles the Dorsey Hall father of two that the Dunloggin Middle School area, where he lives, may be split into three separate school districts, just as his children and their friends reach high school age.

Under a redistricting proposal scheduled for a vote by the school board on Thursday, more than 200 students from Dunloggin Middle School, which his daughter attends, would find themselves at Wilde Lake High School this fall. If no redistricting changes were made, Dorsey Hall students would continue to enroll at Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools with their Dunloggin classmates.

"We feel manipulated," said Mr. Kaufman, who believes his neighborhood was a pawn in a school system attempt to improve Wilde Lake's academic performance while relieving crowding at Centennial. "We feel abused. We feel as if there is a hidden agenda."

Mr. Kaufman and his neighbors are among the hundreds of parents who have found themselves entangled in a complex, two-year high school redistricting process intended to balance student enrollment at Centennial and Wilde Lake.

More than a half-dozen other elementary and middle schools also may find themselves with new boundary lines after the school board votes Thursday.

But the proposal involving the two high schools, which affects about 400 students, has attracted the most attention.

Dorsey Hall parents have vehemently opposed a transfer of their children out of Centennial, some of them going so far as to enroll their children in private schools starting next school year. At the same time, many parents outside of Dorsey Hall accuse that community of being racist and elitist for opposing the proposal to transfer Dorsey Hall students out of Centennial.

Mr. Kaufman rejects the idea that Dorsey Hall parents don't want their children to attend Wilde Lake because it has the highest minority student enrollment. Instead, he argues that Dorsey Hall parents want their children educated at Centennial, which is closer, to keep intact the sense of community that they've nourished over the years.

Other Dorsey Hall parents agree.

"I've never ever said we don't like Wilde Lake," said Alistair

Leslie, a Dorsey Hall parent who has presented alternative building and redistricting plans to the school board that he said would keep the shuffling of students to a minimum and his community at Centennial. "We want to maintain our neighborhood and our sense of community."

Dorsey Hall parents say Wilde Lake, whose students suffer from attending a school that offers a limited number of classes because of its smaller size, should have gotten additional resources sooner, including additional staff to teach specialized courses.

What school officials have proposed is a plan to "bring in better and more students for scores to go up and get more funding in," Mr. Kaufman said. "The result is a larger student population [with] higher-performing students." Mr. Kaufman fears that those Wilde Lake students who need the additional help may never get it because they'll fall between the cracks in a Wilde Lake with a larger student population.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey disputes Mr. Kaufman's assessment. "Wilde Lake has been given additional resources since the day it was founded," he said. "It is wrong to say they have not gotten additional assistance."

He calls Dorsey Hall's assertion that there was a political agenda "a straw man argument. . . . I think we need to make use of space. We need to redistrict people in order to balance student enrollment. We're doing it primarily for those reasons."

Dr. Hickey agreed that there are some problems at Wilde Lake. But he added that the school will be "going on a new voyage" next fall as the student body moves for two years to River Hill High School while the old building is torn down and a new one is built at a cost of more than $20 million.

The changes at Wilde Lake will include a new interdisciplinary curriculum, a wing specially for ninth-graders, and a new grading system that will eliminate Wilde Lake's "no-fail" policy. "We are well-aware of student achievement and we are trying to address it in a variety of ways," he said. "Moving Dorsey Hall in there is done because it makes the most sense in balancing student population" to address crowding at Centennial and under-enrollment at Wilde Lake.

Meanwhile, parents in Wilde Lake and in some neighborhoods due to be redistricted into Wilde Lake say the fight has unfairly tarnished the school's name and reputation.

Clary's Forest parent Frank DeSantis, who has two sons at Wilde Lake, said parents and students have had enough of what they see as mudslinging and distortions about their school. "At last year's initial hearing, we were absolutely floored at the vehemence and the anger coming from the Dorsey Hall community toward Wilde Lake," he said. "It drew the community together."

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