Nearly 100 from Wilde Lake pack school-reform group meeting

Equity, enrollment policy among topics discussed

February 18, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Nearly 100 people from the Wilde Lake area of Columbia packed a room last night to hear the preliminary findings of a school-reform group and to offer insights of their own.

The meeting was organized by the Wilde Lake Village Board and the Wilde Lake Village Revitalization Committee and was held at Slayton House. It presented an opportunity for the Leadership Committee on School Equity to interact with people from the area that has been the major focus of equity concerns.

At the beginning of the school year, parents of 50 children in the Clemens Crossing neighborhood took advantage of the open-enrollment policy and sent them to Lime Kiln Middle School rather than to Wilde Lake Middle School. The parents said they were concerned that the quality of education at Wilde Lake wasn't up to par, in part because test scores there are lower than elsewhere in the county.

Responding to the Wilde Lake situation and other concerns, schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and County Executive James N. Robey in October formed the Leadership Committee to look into perceived inequities in the schools. The group is to give a report March 1.

The chairwomen of three Leadership Committee subgroups spoke at last night's meeting.

Mary Kay Sigaty, who heads the Subcommittee on Factors Affecting Equity, said members have been studying redistricting, school fund raising and the open-enrollment policy, which allows parents to send their children to any school with space as long as they provide the transportation.

Joanne Mead, chairwoman of the staffing subcommittee, said her group is focusing on such issues as quality of instructors and staff stability. Staffs at some schools, particularly those with lower test scores, have high turnover rates, she said.

Terry Chaconas, chairwoman of the accountability subcommittee, said her group believes there should be accountability at all levels: educators, families and the community.

Leadership Committee members asked residents for input and got plenty of it.

"Since we value diversity, I think it's very important that no more open-enrollment decisions making us less diverse should be permitted in the future," said parent Joel Aber, referring to the Lime Kiln situation.

He said that putting magnet programs in Columbia schools could help.

"I think that would affect people's perception of the older schools in Columbia, and we wouldn't have people wanting to transfer out," he said.

Dave Gardner, a former Wilde Lake Village board member, said the schools in Wilde Lake need more resources.

"Sometimes more is more equitable than even," he said, referring to funding between schools.

Lionel Layton, who has two children, said he moved to the Wilde Lake area because he liked the diversity there. He's happy with the schools.

"I think you guys are beating yourself up for no reason because the product is good," he said to the audience. "I have no plans of leaving Wilde Lake anytime soon."

But others in the audience said they worried their schools' low standardized test scores give a negative perception of Wilde Lake, keeping some families from moving to the area, said Lyn Brier, whose daughter attends Running Brook Elementary School.

Sigaty said in response to some of the speakers: "You're confirming many things that we're hearing. They're things that are in our consideration."

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