Board hears pleas to build

Dozens attend meeting to ask for new high school

Tales of crowded facility shared

Panel chief tells parents redistricting is inevitable

Carroll County

April 15, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Amy Malmowski stood barely higher than the lectern from which she addressed Carroll County school board members yesterday, but her message was loud and clear.

"Please build us a new school as soon as possible," said the 11-year-old sixth-grader at North Carroll Middle School, pleading for the board to ease the crowded conditions at North Carroll High in Hampstead.

Amy fired off problems she has heard about the school tat she will likely attend next: not enough lockers for the 1,600 students at the school that has a capacity of 1,340; teachers who push carts of their supplies from class to class instead of having their own rooms; and too many students spending their high school years in portable classrooms.

Malmowski and her family were among about 50 people who attended the board meeting yesterday clad in the high school's colors - red and black - to express support for a new school to alleviate the space crunch.

Administrators at North Carroll have been compelled to take creative but drastic steps: converting offices and storage areas into classrooms, a little-used stairwell into a closet and a hallway into an office.

"One of the rooms we have is called the ballroom, which conjures up a palatial image," said North Carroll Principal Gary Dunkleberger in an interview yesterday. "But the ballroom used to be where we stored gym balls. It's a classroom now."

This month, Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich suggested building an 800- student high school that could accommodate growth if the student population continued to increase.

In addition to building a new school, options that have been considered include expanding North Carroll's capacity by as much as 600 students, redistricting students to other high schools and running classes in shifts, by either splitting the day or having year-round school. But schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday that double sessions are no longer on the table.

School board President C. Scott Stone said that whatever option is chosen, redistricting is inevitable.

But parents overwhelmingly favor building a new school, Dunkleberger said.

Donna Oursler, spokeswoman for the North Carroll Overcrowding Alliance, a newly created parent activist group, said in an interview yesterday that she does not send her eldest son to the school because of the crowded conditions. She would like the opportunity to send her other three children to a public high school, she said, but only if a new one is built.

"Every other option is a short-term solution to a long-term problem," Oursler said.

Dunkleberger said that in weekly meetings with parents over the past month, crowding at his school has been the only topic of discussion. At public hearings this month, he said, parents repeatedly called for a new high school.

"I believe this would also represent the sentiment of the staff," Dunkleberger said. "It's a very strong feeling on the part of the staff that to enlarge the school by a 600-student capacity is a grave mistake. I think many parents would think so, too."

The 27-year-old building draws students from Manchester to the Pennsylvania border, as well as farther south, near Westminster.

The county's development boom threatens to exacerbate the crowding, which Dunkleberger said could swell with children moving from private schools to the public high school. Next year, he expects about 1,700 students to enroll at North Carroll. By the 2007 school year, 1,860 to 2,050 students are expected.

Ecker plans to make a recommendation June 9 to school board members, who are scheduled to vote on the issue in September.

North Carroll Middle eighth-grader Sabrina Harris, 14, who will be moving on to North Carroll High in the fall, told the board that when she thinks of her future school, she sees "overpopulation, crowded hallways, crammed kids. All over, total chaos."

Packed conditions and a decision to reduce enrollment at Westminster High School to 1,200 students led to the creation of Winters Mill High School in 2002, while Century High School opened in 2001 to ease crowding at South Carroll schools.

Ecker said yesterday that the earliest a new school could open would be fall 2008.

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