Map of schools renews concern among parents

Glenmont residents fear neighborhood will be split

Early stage of redistricting

Committee weighs draft, won't draw lines until fall

Howard County

July 17, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

A group of Glenmont parents packed a room of the Howard County schools' Applied Research Lab last night filled with fear that 56 of their kids might be sent from top-rated Thunder Hill Elementary School to struggling Phelps Luck in the fall of 2003.

"We would be devastated if we had to move them out of Thunder Hill," said Marjorie Valin, whose three children attend the school. "Thunder Hill is the fabric of the Glenmont community; it's the anchor for the neighborhood."

Valin and the two dozen other parents present were upset by lines drawn on an early draft map of the Howard County School Boundary Line Committee, which meets Tuesdays at the lab and will recommend this fall district boundary changes for the county's 38 elementary and 18 middle schools in 2003.

Many of the parents were worried that a decision on whether to send the students would be made last night, but, in fact, a decision won't be made until fall. Still, the crowded meeting room offered a preview of anxieties likely to come.

"I think it's far too early for parents to be getting upset," said Ellen Giles, the committee's interim chairwoman. "This is a proposal; it is so far from being final. What we're doing now is playing with the draft. It's just a place for us to start."

Still, last year's high school redistricting drew hundreds of impassioned parents, and the committee is gearing up this year to deal with the same.

"It felt like people were peering in the windows then," Giles said, "like we were in a zoo."

The draft that distressed parents last night, drawn up by the school system's Office of Geographical Systems, addresses a northeastern section of the county surrounding Bellows Spring, a new elementary school slated to open in fall 2003.

It suggests, among other changes, taking 134 students from Thunder Hill, the third-highest-performing school in the county, according to 2001 MSPAP achievement scores, and splitting them between Phelps Luck, which is in the bottom tier of MSPAP scores, and Talbott Springs, which is even lower in that tier.

"The scores are very important," Valin said, "but we're more concerned with keeping our kids together and keeping them in an environment they know and grew up with as opposed to shuffling them around."

This is the third time in as many years the Glenmont neighborhood has been subject to redistricting pressures, though the last two times were to reapportion high school students, not elementary pupils.

Parents assembled then as well to protest moving a handful of students from Howard High, which is within walking distance, to Oakland Mills, which is 2 1/2 miles away.

"Both times, they opted to keep the students at Howard High," said Valin, who testified at one of the hearings last year. "But why do we have to fight this fight continually?"

Giles said the Glenmont community is not being picked on; it just has unlucky geography that puts it right in the middle of discussions.

"What it really ends up being is a domino effect," she said. The committee's first goal is to fill Bellows Spring and relieve crowding in the northeast, which seems to require moving pupils south into Columbia and bumping Columbia children over to make room.

"Mounting a protest about moving kids from Thunder Hill is probably premature," Giles said, "But it's never too early to pay attention to what's going on."

Valin said she moved to Glenmont five years ago because of the school's reputation.

"When you move into a neighborhood, you don't buy a house, you buy a school," she said. "We bought our house in Glenmont because Thunder Hill had such an outstanding reputation."

Full map recommendations won't be ready for public discussion until late September, when the school board will schedule hearings across the county. No questions were taken by the committee last night, but Glenmont parents discussed their anxieties among themselves before and after the meeting.

David Leatherman, who launched an e-mail and phone campaign to draw his Glenmont neighbors to the meeting, said he doesn't envy the planners.

"They're got a very difficult task," he said. "And you've got to give them a lot of credit because they are trying to do the right thing. But until we figure out what it means for our community, it's hard to react."

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