Build new schools or move the children? hTC

Comment

December 08, 1996|By BRIAN SULLAM

SCHOOL redistricting produces heartburn for parents, school administrators and elected officials.

Despite Anne Arundel County school Superintendent Carol S. Parham's thoughtful efforts to develop a minimally disruptive plan, her proposal is likely to increase the sale of Tums in communities from Rivera Beach to Deale.

The superintendent's plan was presented to the county Board of Education this week. Board members will have a month to decide whether to adopt it, modify it or reject it.

Redrawing school attendance zones is one of those hot-button issues that produce immediate visceral reactions. It is very difficult to discuss dispassionately the relative merits of any such plan.

Over the past couple of years, I have tried -- so far unsuccessfully -- to convince one of my editors that school redistricting can be a useful tool to address the periodic 'N misallocation of students and classrooms.

Our periodic discussions go round and round. Neither of us has made headway in convincing the other of the wisdom of his position. I have vowed that before the millennium arrives, I will persuade him that well-thought-out redistricting makes more sense than trying to build oneself out of crowded classrooms.

Given how worked up we get over discussing redistricting in the abstract, it is easy to understand how passionate parents become when their children are moved from school to school, like pawns on a chessboard.

Many parents agree with my editor that any school redistricting is out of the question. They believe that when they purchase a home, they are securing the right to send their child to the neighborhood elementary school, the community middle and high schools. Any change in attendance boundaries is seen as a breach of faith with homeowners.

There is no doubt that an elementary school defines a neighborhood. My own experience is that parents are most involved with their children's elementary school. "Parents' night" always well-attended. Many parents volunteer in the classrooms, library or lunchroom, accompany children on trips, prepare brownies for bake sales and help organize holiday celebrations.

After spending that kind of time in a school, parents, understandably, identify with the institution, its principal and teachers.

Two of the superintendent's recommendations involve elementary school redistricting.

One involves opening a new Meade Middle School that can accommodate sixth-graders. The other involves redrawing the attendance zone to alleviate crowding at Tracys Elementary in South County. If adopted, students living in the east side of Tracys attendance area would attend Deale Elementary. Since Dr. Parham basically agreed to a plan that Meade parents and the community developed, there isn't likely to be strong opposition. Despite crowding at Tracys, however, some parents may not want their children transferred.

Middle-school detachment

Middle schools don't foster the same sense of attachment as elementary schools. Dr. Parham hopes to take advantage of this diminished sense of ownership by moving children out of their community feeder system during middle-school years, then back during high school.

Faced with a crowded George Fox Middle School, Dr. Parham suggests diverting children from Rivera Beach and Sunset Beach elementaries to the underused Chesapeake Middle School. It would mean that about 270 student would be funneled out of the Northeast High feeder system for middle school, then transferred back once they get to high school.

Opposition comes from two areas. Some parents want more classrooms built at George Fox. Others want their children to attend Chesapeake High rather than Northeast. In addition, some students currently attending George Fox will be transferred to Chesapeake.

Adding classrooms to George Fox, favored by parents, apparently is not a realistic option. Not only does the school system lack the money, the crowded conditions would continue for years until the classrooms are finished.

Goofy parents

In many ways, redistricting middle school students generates less trauma than it does with elementary students. Most middle schoolers don't want their goofy parents coming to school and embarrassing them. As a result, many parents don't participate in school activities and don't develop the same attachments they do to elementary schools. Perhaps, there might not be as much opposition to the middle-school redistricting as there might if it applied to elementary schools.

Most parents want the best for their children. They good facilities, current textbooks, caring teachers and administrators. As long as redistricting offers parents the same quality of education or better, the chances of redistricting working is enhanced.

The task facing Dr. Parham and the school board is ensuring that students don't suffer any deterioration in educational opportunity.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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