Rezoning for pupils proposed in city

School won't be built in Mount Washington, one of the areas likely affected

March 13, 2003|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A long battle to build a middle school in the Mount Washington section of Baltimore appears to have been unsuccessful, and city school administrators have said they are proposing rezoning that would allow middle school pupils there to attend classes in nearby Roland Park.

That proposal, to be presented to the school board this week, is just one of several plans to redraw school boundaries this summer. The new school lines would cause students from about six schools to move to other locations. The board will hold a series of public hearings before it votes on the proposals.

In addition to the Mount Washington-Roland Park move, school officials are suggesting that the board approve:

the locations of three new high schools that are scheduled to open in the fall;

having students from the Waverly section attend a new middle school in their neighborhood;

relocating some elementary pupils in Rosemont from a school that is scheduled to close;

and expanding two elementary schools in Sandtown-Winchester.

Parents of Mount Washington Elementary School pupils had persuaded the board last year to add a sixth grade this school year and to ask the state for school construction money to pay for an addition to the elementary building to house the middle school.

But with a growing deficit in the school system and no state funds available, the school system decided it couldn't afford a $24 million addition to Mount Washington Elementary.

Moving those sixth- through eighth-graders to Roland Park is the alternative.

"We are in complete favor of it," said Sonya Brown, president of the Mount Washington Elementary School PTO. "We would have liked to have the funding for an expansion. The funding was just not there on both levels. That is a disappointment for us. However, Roland Park is a great middle school and we would love for our children to have that option."

Brown said she wants the board to act quickly so that families know as soon as possible what school their children will attend next year. In the past, many Mount Washington parents have chosen private schools for middle school rather than Fallstaff Middle School, which is considered to be failing.

The move to Roland Park Middle School wasn't an alternative until now, said district Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz, because it was crowded. But now Waverly students, who have been attending Roland Park Middle, could be attending a new neighborhood school - a move that Waverly parents have been pushing.

"I think it would be in the best interest of the community if our children were a little closer to home," said Gwendolyn Ross-Clinton, president of the Waverly Elementary PTA. She said a number of parents were concerned about their children taking public transportation to Roland Park.

If approved, the new Waverly Middle, which would be located in the Waverly Career Center, will begin accepting sixth-graders in the fall. The career center is now used by special-education students who were scheduled to be moved out over the course of the next couple of years. If some of those special-education students remain at the center for another year, Smolarz said, the system will put up a modular classroom for sixth-graders.

Over the next three years, Smolarz said, Roland Park's middle school enrollment would probably drop by about 120 pupils, a welcome development for a school that is bulging at the seams with 900 children.

School officials also hope to satisfy the parents, teachers and principals from George Kelson and William Pinderhughes elementary schools in the Sandtown-Winchester community who lobbied board members at Tuesday's board meeting to have those schools, which are now prekindergarten through fifth grade, expanded to eighth grade. That request will be added to the formal proposals to be considered by the board, Smolarz said.

Another elementary school move would shift pupils who attend Lafayette Elementary School, which the board has voted to close this year, to vacant space at nearby Calverton Middle School in Rosemont.

As part of the school system's efforts to break up the large failing neighborhood high schools and create new smaller ones, it plans to open two innovative high schools in the fall run by nonprofit groups.

One of those schools, the New Era Academy, is intended to be a rigorous academic school for students aiming for college who might not meet entrance standards for the selective citywide high schools such as City College. New Era will be run by a nonprofit group called Replications Inc., which oversees eight schools in New York City.

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