New high school viewed as 'a shot in the arm' Wilde Lake hoping facility will boost a troubled image

March 13, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

As Howard County school officials prepare to open $20-million, state-of-the-art Wilde Lake High School this fall, residents are hoping the new school will improve the image of the west Columbia community's schools.

"Many of us feel Wilde Lake schools have gotten a bum rap," Norma Rose, Wilde Lake's representative on the Columbia Council, said of the troubled image of the village's schools.

The new high school "will be a shot in the arm" for the Wilde Lake community, she said. "It's a very welcomed addition."

But with the opening of the new high school, Wilde Lake's schools still face many challenges.

Compared with other areas of the county, the village has relatively large concentrations of low-income, minority and non-English-speaking students. At some schools, students' average scores on standardized tests have been declining. And many of the area's schools are showing signs of age.

At a community meeting last week with Michael E. Hickey, the Howard school superintendent, residents called for schools that are well-maintained, that are technologically up to date and that offer programs for a student population that is growing ever more diverse. They also want to raise area students' test scores.

Similar to the original Wilde Lake High Columbia's first high school, which was torn down in 1994 to make way for the high school that's being built many schools in the Wilde Lake village are in need of repairs and upgrades.

As part of an effort to focus on these needs, the Wilde Lake Revitalization Committee invited Dr. Hickey last week to its program, "Wilde Schools: Today and Tomorrow."

The committee was formed last year to address aging facilities throughout the village, Columbia's first, said Ms. Rose, one of the committee members.

"Wilde Lake is at the center of things that's an important fact to keep in mind," Dr. Hickey told the 60-plus audience members. "But Wilde Lake is no better off or worse off than any other cluster of schools."

He said the rebuilt high school will have a state-of-the-art theater, named after Columbia's founder, James Rouse. "We're going to provide an outstanding high school for this community," Dr. Hickey said.

The original high school opened in 1971 with open classrooms and an unstructured curriculum that were innovative at the time. Once the county's premier high school, its image deteriorated over the years.

That became apparent during a nasty school redistricting battle in 1994 one in which Dorsey Hall parents fought the transfer of their children to Wilde Lake.

At the meeting last week, several parents raised questions about the high school's curriculum.

For years, the school operated a "no-fail" curriculum, which meant students could redo their schoolwork until they passed. If not, they'd get an incomplete grade. But several years ago, the curriculum was modified so students could get a failing grade.

Parents also asked why bathrooms are locked at Wilde Lake High, now housed at the facility that will become River Hill High school next fall. To deter student smokers, Dr. Hickey said. "Wilde Lake has a distinguished record," Dr. Hickey said.

As testimony to that, one parent said his daughter graduated from Wilde Lake and has gone onto medical school and become a Fulbright scholar. "For people who want to work, the environment is there," he said.

"The reputation of Wilde Lake schools is an ill-deserved reputation," added Jill Robinson, president of the Running Brook PTA. She said she has been pleased with her daughters' educational experiences at Running Brook Elementary and Wilde Lake Middle schools.

Said Ms. Rose: "Wilde Lake's greatest strength is its diversity."

The superintendent also discussed plans to renovate Wilde Lake Middle School this summer.

Two years ago, the school system began a countywide technological equalization plan, which aimed to provide one computer for every 10 students. Wilde Lake Middle benefited from that, he said, but computers for Bryant Woods and Running Brook elementaries were delayed until the coming school year.

Parent Susan Shipp complained about the village's school feeder system, noting that students at some elementary schools in the Wilde Lake area are split among several schools at the middle-school level thereby forcing them to say goodbye to their friends.

"I invite you to go the schools as they're leaving the last day of school and see what you're doing to those kids," she told Dr. Hickey. Later, in an interview, she added: "It's very wrenching to watch them because they know they're not going to be together again."

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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