Schools search for space

Solutions: Like many Howard County schools, Ilchester Elementary has had to find ways to ease classroom crowding.

August 30, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

One of the traditional perks of being a principal or assistant principal is having your own office.

But when you're at the helm of a crowded school where every square foot is precious, you learn to make compromises. For Ilchester Elementary School Principal Jacqueline Conarton and Assistant Principal John Hammett, that meant voluntarily giving up their individual offices for classroom space and instead sharing a small conference room.

Conarton's old office is a classroom for gifted and talented schoolchildren. The office that would have been for Hammett, who is new to the Ellicott City school, is a classroom for the speech teacher.

"It's a little tight," Conarton said. "John and I laugh that we can't both get out [of the room] at the same time."

As more than 41,000 children arrive today for the first day of school in Howard County, Ilchester is not the only school dealing with crowding, especially in the northeast part of the county. Parents from Deep Run, Elkridge, Rockburn, Waterloo, Waverly and Ilchester elementary schools are so concerned that they formed a coalition to persuade the school system to build another elementary school in the area.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said there is a "good likelihood" that the capital budget proposal will include a request for a new elementary school in the northeast.

"That's not a certainty yet, but we are kind of leaning strongly in that direction as we look at the numbers," Hickey said. "We almost certainly will have to look at an additional school or schools. We also may have to be looking at some other additions other than those we had planned. We're waiting to see what happens on opening week when we get that first enrollment count."

Ilchester was expecting more than 780 children in K-5, where the capacity is 588, according to school system documents. The school has three portable classrooms.

Conarton and Hammett say they are determined to keep Ilchester's pupils and teachers from feeling as if they are in a crowded school.

"The No. 1 thing is to make sure that the students have a place where they can learn," Conarton said. "There's a morale in the school where teachers feel ownership. When you start floating teachers it doesn't fortify the academic program.

"I don't want the teachers and the students to feel we're overcrowded. It's not so bad. We have everything we need."

Hammett agreed.

"Somebody has to give up their space," he said. "Everybody needs a place to call home. For an individual teacher, it's the classroom or their area."

The teachers seem grateful for the administrators' gesture. Wendy Bourke, a gifted and talented resource teacher at the school, said that by having Conarton's old office, she is visible and accessible to children and parents.

"I think it's great how she just came together with the staff and came up with the solution," Bourke said of Conarton. "Everybody has their desk or their home base. The kids know where to find you if they need you."

The two administrators find some advantages to sharing an office. For starters, the arrangement makes sharing information easier, if not unavoidable.

"Mike Hickey talks all the time about forming administrative partnerships," Hammett said. "This affords us the perfect opportunity to form a team."

It's not the first time Ilchester has come up with a solution to the space problem. A guidance counselor has created an office out of a small audiovisual room in the media center.

The school will get extra space next fall, when an addition for 100 students is finished.

"That will give us some relief and, possibly, our offices back," Hammett said.

In the meantime, Conarton and Hammett are settling into their new quarters and taking the situation cheerfully in stride.

"New parents aren't going to notice it's not our office," Conarton said. "It's the job, it's not the space."

Pub Date: 8/30/99

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