School board sets lines for high schools

New boundaries mirror suggestions by citizens-led panel

`This makes a lot of sense'

Some adjustments recommended by O'Rourke approved

January 25, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The Board of Education set new boundary lines for Howard County high schools last night, setting the stage for the opening of Reservoir High School next fall and moving thousands of students to new schools.

The new boundaries mirror in many ways suggestions in the "red" plan - which was created by the citizens-led Boundary Lines Advisory Committee and recommended to the board by David C. Drown, coordinator of geographic systems.

Some adjustments were made to the red plan taken largely from suggestions by Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, including a decision to open Reservoir with only freshmen and sophomores.

In essence, the proposal adopted by the board:

Sends North Laurel students now attending Atholton High School to the new Reservoir High. Because no rising juniors would leave their home schools, the original number of about 800 North Laurel students is dropped to about 535.

Splits pupils who attend Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton among three high schools - Reservoir, River Hill and Atholton - to make room for the North Laurel students to attend their closest high school.

Moves the neighborhoods in downtown Ellicott City and Worthington from Mount Hebron High to Centennial. And sends to Howard High School from Mount Hebron students in the Ilchester and Bonnie Branch neighborhoods.

Sends students from Columbia's Hawthorn neighborhood from Wilde Lake High School to Atholton.

Moves the North Hammond Village neighborhood from Hammond High School to Atholton, and the Country Meadows and Crest Drive neighborhoods to Reservoir High from Hammond High School.

Sends students in the Pointers Run neighborhood of River Hill from River Hill High School to Atholton High.

Divides the Emerson/Key property into two sections, much of which will fall in Atholton High School's district, as opposed to Hammond's where it now sits.

"I think this makes a lot of sense," said Ellen Flynn Giles, a member of both the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Boundary Lines Advisory Committee (BLAC) - which submitted the templates for much of the board's final plan. "It's essentially the red plan, with two additions from the superintendent. Adding the Key property makes sense to us [BLAC members], too. It allows you to build growth into Atholton which is getting an addition in 2003."

The school board's plan is notable also for what it does not do.

Despite community-submitted proposals that garnered hours of public testimony and board members' consideration, not one community-based suggestion made it into the final plan.

For instance, River Hill parent Kendall Echols - along with members of the Fulton/Lime Kiln communities - had offered a popular compromise plan that would send some students from North Laurel to Reservoir, but leave enough seats for more Lime Kiln/Fulton children to attend the new school and spare the Pointers Run neighborhood and other western areas from having to leave River Hill.

Board members chose not to accept any of those ideas, leaving many families angry.

"Tonight, there are many dissatisfied parents," said Michael Monheit of Fulton, whose daughter, Rachel, 14, will be moved from River Hill, where she's a freshman, to Reservoir.

"This will be her sixth school in seven years," Monheit said. "Every time there's a redistricting, our area has had the brunt. You're talking about feeder schools being broken up. So what you're doing is, you're bringing kids together for a couple years and then you're pulling them apart."

The county's most-crowded northeast high school, Long Reach, is left untouched, still hundreds of students over capacity.

Several ideas that were on the table in the past few months also were left on the cutting room floor.

For example:

The small Ellicott City community of Gaither Farm was not moved from River Hill High to Wilde Lake, as had been suggested by O'Rourke.

Wealthier, westernmost neighborhoods of Mount Hebron's district were left at that school, as opposed to O'Rourke's recommendation to send them to Centennial.

No neighborhoods were moved in or out of Oakland Mills High School, although the school is under capacity.

Board member Virginia Charles said the board had received 1,400 e-mails about this contentious topic - 1,000 of those in the last week.

Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French said all the community-based proposals and suggestions were taken into account and appreciated.

"Everybody has the right to dedicate the hours if they want and give us their best thinking," she said. "That is what makes this county great. As a board member, I look for this kind of involvement 12 months a year."

Board and advisory committee members said they were glad the major round of redistricting was over.

Reshuffling students was especially painful for Dan Furman, the board's student member. The Wilde Lake High senior said the matter kept him up nights.

"I know they're not just numbers to the board, but to me, they're my friends," Furman said. "I can pick out faces and know what I did forced you to go to a different high school. It weighs heavily on my conscience. I mean, Mr. Drown's number is on my speed dial. We've been going over numbers, and my room is nothing but paper."

Mary Kay Sigaty, co-chairwoman of the BLAC, said the committee's members were breathing a collective "sigh of relief."

"I know that some are not happy," Sigaty said. "It's just the nature of redistricting. You always hope you can accommodate everyone's wishes, but you really can't. We went into this knowing that nobody wanted to move. When you open new schools, somebody has to move."

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