Lessons from Elmer Wolfe Elementary

July 25, 1994

The successful effort by a group of parents to shift the fifth grade from New Windsor Middle School back to Elmer Wolfe Elementary was a valuable learning experience for Carroll County's education community, not to mention the public at large.

The most important lesson here: Conventional wisdom is often wrong. Even though the county's school bureaucracy had decided to retain fifth graders at New Windsor Middle School and Superintendent Brian Lockhard had twice upheld that finding in his former job as deputy superintendent, a persistent cadre of parents decided not to accept that decision and appealed to the Board of Education, which reversed the administration's decision.

Skeptics presumed there was little chance that the board would overrule Dr. Lockhard, particularly since it had just appointed TTC him superintendent. In addition, many Carroll residents believe the school board is merely a rubber stamp for administration decisions.

School administrators had decided against returning the fifth-grade to Elmer Wolfe -- it actually hadn't been there in 24 years -- because housing 79 fifth-graders there would displace about three dozen children who participate in pre-school programs that have used Elmer Wolfe classrooms. Moving those programs, which are designed to prepare children for elementary school, would be more disruptive than keeping the fifth-graders at New Windsor, the administration concluded. Some parents argued that placing fifth-graders in the more socially mature environs of a middle school was detrimental.

Forced to chose between conflicting needs, the school board determined that its first priority is to students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Member C. Scott Stone seemed to summarize the board's sentiments when he said the administrators had mistakenly focused on the logistical rather than the education ramifications of the issue.

The parents, several of whom had never been politically active before, learned that the average person, backed by some research and reason, can have power in a democracy. Next time, the board may not agree with the parents, but it has already telegraphed a valuable message: It will pay attention to its clients -- the public -- and act accordingly.

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