School dissatisfaction was a long time buildingI am...

LETTERS

October 10, 1999

School dissatisfaction was a long time building

I am writing in regard to your articles on the departure of students from Wilde Lake Middle School.

If you had investigated, you would have found that the real problems at Wilde Lake have only tangentially been caused by racial attitudes.

Instead, they can be squarely put on the shoulders of the Howard County school administration, which started the problem by removing talent from the staff to provide for its new schools just as the school population was shifting in composition; refusing to take action to bring in new students despite a declining enrollment; and failing to provide the leadership the school needed at a critical time.

I am a Clemens Crossing parent who has been involved with Wilde Lake Middle since 1994. My daughter went there from 1994 to 1998, and my son is one of the Clemens Crossing students who entered Wilde Lake this year.

Here are the facts The Sun missed:

First, this has happened before. In 1995 , almost 20 students, mostly incoming sixth-graders, left the school for Burleigh Manor Middle through open enrollment. Headlines in the local newspaper were just like yours. However, the articles then revealed that Wilde Lake had had three principals in five years, with two principals pulled out to open new schools. The third principal had just begun in January 1995. This departure caused the county administration to declare Wilde Lake "protected" the following year and to keep it that way for four years.

It is common practice in Howard to open new schools by selecting an experienced administrator from an existing school to head the new staff, and allowing him or her to take a number of teachers from the former school. These principals select from the best and strongest of their staff. After the first year, a number of other teachers follow. This process, having happened to Wilde Lake twice drained the school of much needed talent at a critical time.

Second, the Howard County school administration fails to solve problems at existing schools or provide enough resources to compete with newer schools for either teachers or students.

Following the 1995 event, Clemens Crossing parents, to try to support the school. They wrote letters to get more resources. They lobbied the county administration. Parents worked on the newsletter to try to improve one of the school's failings, communication with parents. Promises were made, but the changes were minimal. The much-needed and long-awaited building renovation was delayed a year. Both school staff and parents became increasingly demoralized. At the end of that year, more than half of the staff requested transfer. The response was to do very little for two more years.

Third, the county administration should long ago have dealt with declining enrollment at Wilde Lake, but avoided making the hard decisions that were necessary. Clemens Crossing, which used to supply a substantial portion of the students at Wilde Lake Middle, is an aging neighborhood, and there is no new housing development anywhere in the Wilde Lake school district.

During the four years that Wilde Lake was a protected school because of under enrollment, Clarksville Middle next door mushroomed to the point that students could barely move through the halls. According to news reports, even with the opening of Lime Kiln Middle, Clarksville is still over capacity, with new housing in its district being built at a furious pace. If under-enrollment was the reason for Wilde Lake's protected status, why wasn't some of that overcapacity shifted to Wilde Lake Middle?

Fourth, the disparity between the facilities provided to new schools and to older schools is huge.

Just read The Sun's article about the opening of Lime Kiln. See the description of computers with Internet access in every room, the equipment in the computer lab. It's no surprise that parents and teachers flock to the new schools.

Finally, at least part of the problem stems from the fact that Wilde Lake is not a natural school for Clemens Crossing students to attend. In a sense Lime Kiln is as much a neighborhood school for Clemens as Wilde Lake.

Clemens Crossing Elementary used to be a feeder for Clarksville Middle, but thanks to the crazy-quilt of Howard County redistricting, Clemens fifth-graders are split into three different middle schools. The Clemens neighborhood immediately around the school goes to Wilde Lake; students around Cedar Lane and in Rivers Edge stayed at Clarksville until this year, but now are districted for Lime Kiln; a third, smaller group goes to Harpers Choice.

The Clemens students are the only Wilde Lake Middle students who will not go to Wilde Lake High. They come back to Atholton, in the center of Clemens Crossing, where they will rejoin the Clemens students who were sent to Lime Kiln. This ripping apart of friendships made at each level is hard on kids and parents, and makes it easier for parents not happy with the middle school to decide to go elsewhere.

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