Wilde Lake residents tackle education issues

Town meeting held to discuss `future of our schools'


January 10, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When the Leadership Committee on School Equity was looking for community input last school year about how to make schools in Howard County better, residents of Wilde Lake village were quick to hold a town meeting and come up chock-full of ideas.

And when two seats on the school board became open last year, Wilde Lake residents held a forum to hear the candidates' views and impart their own.

Last night, in true Wilde Lake fashion, concerned residents again convened to discuss a topic they can't seem to get enough of - education.

"We're having this to hopefully pull together the community and the people who are making decisions about the future of our schools," said Joshua Feldmesser, chairman of the Wilde Lake Village Board, "so we can talk about how we can continue to make our schools even better."

Board members invited leaders of the four schools inside Wilde Lake's borders - Bryant Woods and Running Brook elementaries, Wilde Lake Middle and Wilde Lake High - all five school board members, members of the Leadership Committee on School Equity and Superintendent John R. O'Rourke to speak at a town meeting at Slayton House in the village center.

About 80 people showed up to hear and be heard.

Feldmesser said the forum was especially important for Wilde Lake because the village is "in a very interesting point right now."

"Wilde Lake has a huge population of empty-nesters," Feldmesser said, "and as they start moving out, we want to make sure we have superior schools so we can attract a diverse group of people in."

Each of the four principals gave a brief introduction about the makeup and characteristics of their schools, including what programs are in place to help children achieve.

The principals assured parents that there is consistency among all levels of Wilde Lake schools.

"Whether they come in with tremendous deficits, or they come in at the top of their class, they are getting the same message," said Brenda Thomas, principal of Wilde Lake Middle.

Some residents were concerned about such issues as redistricting and open enrollment.

Parent Joanne Heckman said the district should reinstate open enrollment and allow parents to choose where to send their children to school so long as they provide transportation. Last year, the school board placed a one-year moratorium on open enrollment to allow time to evaluate the policy.

Heckman said Longfellow Elementary has experienced declining enrollments the past two years, and parents ought to have the option to send their children there.

"To say to a low-income family that you have to stay in the school where you are, or move, isn't fair," Heckman said.

Longfellow Elementary feeds into Harper's Choice Middle, which feeds into Wilde Lake High.

Other parents wanted to know if the system was considering countywide redistricting to promote true neighborhood schools, where children advance with the same group.

"We're serious about trying to commit ourselves to that," O'Rourke said. "We will be talking about that in the second meeting in January."

Rick Wilson, who represents Wilde Lake Middle School on the board's Citizens Advisory Committee, said the town meeting was good for the community and for school system leaders.

"In this community, if you get the community behind the leadership, then they feel empowered to conduct their mission to educate the children, and the teachers, in turn, feel empowered," Wilson said. "They have to feel the community's behind them."

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