Parents tired of supporting two elementary schools Integration was goal of '70s arrangement

March 25, 1997|By Cheryl L. Tan | Cheryl L. Tan,SUN STAFF

Every weekday morning, Sue Taylor gets up at 7, wakes her children, and dresses and feeds them. Then her day really gets busy.

Wendy and Richard Taylor, ages 7 and 8 -- and only a year apart in elementary school -- have to attend different city schools blocks away from each other because neither school teaches through fifth grade. One school goes to second grade, and the other has third to fifth grade.

Now community leaders are lobbying the school board to change that and make both schools pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. That would suit Taylor just fine.

As it is now, Wendy goes to Steuart Hill Elementary School two blocks from home in Southwest Baltimore. Richard attends Franklin Square Elementary about eight blocks away. Taylor has to get Richard to school by 8: 15 and Wendy to Steuart Hill 10 minutes later. Usually, her sister has to help.

"It's hard on the children," she said. "My little girl's always like, 'Why can't Mommy take me to school?' That's kind of hard for a 7-year-old to understand. I don't like it at all. We need all the kids in one school."

Community leaders held a meeting yesterday morning at Steuart Hill to discuss the issue with 6th District City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger and about 20 parents and teachers. Steuart Hill is the larger school, with about 500 children enrolled; Franklin Square has about 430.

The schools' grades were split in the 1970s to enforce racial integration, Taylor said. Some parents worry that two K-5 schools would bring about segregation again because the neighborhoods remain racially distinct. Franklin Square Elementary had predominantly African-American students in the '70s; Steuart Hill was predominantly white.

"We support whatever will give our children better quality education, but because of the way the [community] boundaries are set up, integration of children is not going to happen," said Joyce Smith, executive director of Franklin Square Community Association. "I want the schools to go from pre-K to fifth grade, but I don't want to swap the devil for the witch."

Reisinger said he hoped the school board would look into concern about the schools' racial makeup when weighing the community's proposal.

"I don't want to see it segregated where one school is white and one school is African-American," he said. "You can't let children have the mind-set of segregation."

Leaders listed several points to back their efforts, including convenience. Taylor, education committee chairwoman of the New Southwest Community Association, said she surveyed 122 parents in her neighborhood last fall and found that 95 percent preferred that their children attend one full elementary school.

Taylor said parents were concerned about their children having to walk six to eight blocks and cross a few major streets to get to school. She said parents also felt their children would feel more stable going to the same school from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. In addition, 79 percent said they would be more involved if they didn't have to split their time between two schools, Taylor said.

"It's also a more stable environment if all your kids are in one school," she said.

Shule Finkelstein, spokeswoman for the Southwest area school superintendent, said the school board will carefully consider these issues before making changes.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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