Residents speak out on school equity

3 members of panel hear public's views on issues at meeting

February 10, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County residents spoke out last night about problems with school redistricting and open enrollment and their feelings that principals are not accountable to parents.

About 30 people expressed opinions to three members of the Leadership Committee on School Equity, which has been meeting since October to look into issues relating to resources, programs, staffing, accountability and equity in Howard schools.

The 24-member committee was formed by Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and County Executive James N. Robey because of concerns raised about inequities in older and newer schools. Last night was the first time committee members met and talked with the public.

The full committee is to meet in closed session before issuing a report.

Most at last night's meeting said the system's redistricting policy seems to lack logic and called for a moratorium on all redistricting until administrators have time and money to re-evaluate boundary lines.

"Piecemeal, yearly redistricting must end," said parent Rosemary Mortimer. "It has become a disaster."

"Have you ever seen the redistricting map?" asked parent Hope Patton. "It's ridiculous. It looks like a patchwork quilt."

Mortimer said community bonds often are built around schools, and yearly redistricting destroys them. She said moving children is traumatic and should be done only when students are in transition years, such as going from fifth grade to middle school or from eighth grade to high school, or in kindergarten. One speaker said the school system should consider redrawing boundary lines to make student populations more equal in terms of socioeconomic status and race.

Rick Wilson, PTA president at Wilde Lake Middle School, opposed that idea.

"The solution is to fix the problem at the schools," Wilson said.

Such a solution also would fix the system's open enrollment policy, some parents said.

Open enrollment allows parents to move their children from one school to another, if they provide transportation.

Sue Aaron's children are grown, but she said her neighborhood, which feeds Running Brook Elementary, is suffering because of the population of the school.

Of about 400 single-family homes in her neighborhood, 35 or 40 children go to Running Brook. The rest took advantage of open enrollment and went to other schools, or to private schools. Running Brook, she said, is mostly populated by poor children and because of that, young families do not move into the neighborhood.

"I am extremely concerned with Running Brook and with Wilde Lake and actually with all of Columbia," Aaron said. "I think there is a lot of denial about this."

Many parents agreed that there is no way to get away from an incompetent principal other than open enrollment.

Allen Dyer, who is running for one of two seats on the school board, said principals should be held more accountable to parents.

"There's no clear way for parents to get rid of a bad principal, and there should be a way to do that," Dyer said.

He said clear, written guidelines should be established.

Joanne Heckman said school officials won't hear complaints from a group of parents, only individuals, and teachers can't support parents because they could jeopardize their jobs.

"There's no one to complain to," Heckman said.

Even good principals need to be held accountable, said Barry Budish, PTA president at Waterloo Elementary. "The principals have an awful lot of influence over how they use their resources," he said.

One principal might use an extra halftime teacher to provide more courses for gifted-and-talented students, Budish said, while another might use the position for something else, creating inequities. "There should be some [standards] from school to school," he said.

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