School board hears proposals for redistricting

Plans for panel detail middle, elementary shifts

Votes to enlarge high school site

SAT scores are steady

achievement gap remains

Howard County

October 25, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education ripped through a boatload of business during last night's meeting.

Members received proposals to shift elementary and middle school boundary lines, approved adding acreage to the county's 12th high school site and reviewed new SAT test results that showed the county again tied its high score, but that an achievement gap remains.

David C. Drown, head of the Office of Geographic Information Systems, presented the board with four proposed elementary and middle school redistricting plans. Two were recommended versions and two were alternates.

The recommended elementary school plan would move 1,526 children and reduce the number of schools above the preferred 90 percent to 110 percent capacity from 15 to four.

Under this plan, the elementary school opening in 2003, Bellows Spring, would be filled with pupils from Waterloo, Deep Run and Rockburn.

Thunder Hill, Atholton and Dasher Green would be left alone.

In a twist, no pupils would be shuffled to Phelps Luck, which was initially a point of contention for some parents. Instead, Phelps Luck would give up 85 pupils to Jeffers Hill Elementary, leaving room for growth.

Waterloo's district, however, would pull pupils from an unnatural, elongated area.

"That's the only real weakness I could find in [that] plan," Drown said.

The alternate elementary school plan would move nearly 600 more pupils than the recommended plan, and it would affect all schools. But it would get rid of pockets of pupils - called "islands" - sent to schools well outside their geographic areas.

This plan would allow for six schools outside the preferred capacity range and would not leave extra room for Phelps Luck.

"There's a price to be paid to get rid of those islands," Drown said.

The recommended middle school plan would move 1,120 pupils and fill Folly Quarter Middle school, opening in 2003, with pupils from Clarksville, Glenwood and Mount View - schools immediately surrounding the new one.

"We hit the jackpot with this site," Drown said. "[It's] right where we need it."

This plan would improve the elementary to middle school feeds, but it would leave two feeds from middle to high school in bad shape.

The alternate middle school plan would move another 43 pupils, and leave Harper's Choice Middle crowded, as would the recommended version.

Overall, Drown was pleased with the plans, prepared with the assistance of a citizens' advisory panel, calling them an "excellent job."

Board members didn't know what to make of them yet, though, and deferred questions and comments until their first public work session at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"We haven't had a chance to look at [the data] or study it," said Jane B. Schuchardt, board chairman. "I'm not comfortable asking questions at this time."

Also last night, the board unanimously approved adding 4.2 acres to the Marriotsville site chosen for the new Northern High School, expected to open in 2005. It likely will be used for athletic fields.

The parcel will cost of $424,000, bringing the school's total cost to about $48.5 million and its total acreage to 42.4 acres, which is 7.6 acres fewer than the preferred high school lot size.

The location is a concern for many, particularly those who live near the site, which is adjacent to Mount View Middle School. They worry about the lot size, parking, increased traffic, student safety and potential septic troubles.

"Certainly people can protest," said William Brown, director of school construction. "However, they'll have to bring adequate counsel and [a bevy] of experts to support their positions. I can't see reasonable people spending tens of thousands of dollars to oppose this project when it's [likely] they will lose."

A test score report revealed that the achievement gap among races continues to confound the Howard County administration.

"This distribution, this proportion, doesn't reflect the Howard County [student population] proportion," School Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said of the data, which looked at results of college preparatory tests. "This kind of information changes to nature of our conversation."

The report showed that African-American students consistently scored lower than their Asian, white or Hispanic counterparts, and that there was a disproportionately small number of black students electing to take the tests.

On the plus side, the county average SAT score for the class of 2002 remained at a combined 1084 for the second year in a row, with the math portion at 550 and verbal at 534, a 2-point decrease from last year.

PSAT scores for 2001, the preparatory version of the SAT, changed slightly, losing a point compared with 2000 in both math and verbal.

Kimberly Statham, the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said a change should be evident soon, as learning acceleration techniques are put into practice throughout the county.

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