Schools struggle to deal with 36,000 students

August 28, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

School starts tomorrow for a record 36,000 Howard County students, some of whom will enter new or renovated buildings, while others endure crowded conditions at many of the county's older schools.

That enrollment figure represents a one-year increase of 1,800 -- students, the largest growth since 1973. The growing school population, expected to continue well into the year 2000, has forced Howard County to build schools at a feverish pace and to hire 215 new teachers this year.

Opening their doors for the first time tomorrow are Manor Woods Elementary School in Ellicott City, and Wilde Lake High School at River Hill. The River Hill school is the temporary home for Wilde Lake students while their old building on Trumpeter Road in Columbia is demolished and replaced.

In the next decade, more than a dozen new schools or major renovations are expected to be completed to service an enrollment projected to reach 47,000 by the year 2004.

"We're definitely at a point where what we've been projecting for years is coming on line," said school board Chairman Dana Hanna of the enrollment increase. "There's no diminishment of it."

The population explosion comes as school officials try to come up with a plan that will carry the school system into the next century. The school system plans to ask school employees, parents and students about future changes in a series of community forums this fall.

"What we're hoping to do is get input from people about what our goals will be in the next five years," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "We're trying to address the concern that the plate is too full. Resources have their limits -- human resources as well as financial ones."

Year-round schedule?

In the short term, a committee will study whether to shift Howard County to a year-round schedule, under which students would attend school throughout the year with a shorter summer vacation and with periodic breaks of two to four weeks.

Other changes already are taking place, including the purchase of hundreds of new computers at aging schools, more day-to-day control for principals and staff over their own operations, and new schedules that let high school students earn more credits to graduate.

But the burgeoning school population -- which has driven budget increases over the past several years -- is the biggest issue on the agenda, and is at its most acute at the high school level.

At Howard High School, now the county's largest, enrollment is expected to reach 1,470 students, more than 300 students over capacity. Six portable classrooms have been placed on school property to accommodate the overflow. Principal Gene Streagle hired 15 new teachers this year.

"When you have almost 1,500 kids and need two of this and four of that, our secretaries have been working nonstop from last week just to get the materials together," he said.

Mount Hebron High School will have seven portable classrooms, compared with five last school year, to accommodate an over enrollment of about 240. Atholton High School will have roughly 1,460 students -- about 269 students above capacity -- and two relocatable classrooms.

And Centennial High, which was affected by middle school redistricting last year, will have 1,250 students and seven relocatable classrooms. Centennial was built for 1,115 students.

New facilities

Two new high schools and a new Wilde Lake High are expected to relieve much of the crowding when they open in 1996. In the meantime, school officials will begin work on redistricting plans that will affect almost all the county's high school students in the 1996-1997 school year.

"We're getting to the point where there's no space anymore," Dr. Hickey said. "Good education is going on, but because of the commitment of the people doing it."

Among the initiatives in Howard County schools this year:

* A committee of 75 parents, staff and administrators will study the practical issues involved in year-round schooling, including transportation, food services, curriculum and child care.

Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin said committee members will visit year-round schools in Orange County, Fla., and the Robert E. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, which started year-round school this summer. He expects to give the Board of Education and the public a report on the committee's work in January.

School officials will recommend to the board by March 1995 whether to start year-round education in Howard County.

* This year, eight schools, Mount View Middle School the latest among them, will have site-based management, in which a board of parents and staff decide budget, scheduling, curriculum and other matters independent of the central administration.

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