Redistricting again stirs the emotions of parents

Education notebook

Education Beat

November 13, 2005|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV

Given the number of new students - and new schools - in Howard County in recent years, redistricting has become almost an annual rite.

But that does not diminish the headache for members of the school board, who must sift dozens upon dozens of opinions, complaints and scenarios in shifting students between neighborhood schools.

Emotions were on display this past week, as the board held a hearing on how to shuffle pupil population to make room for a new elementary school in Dayton in August as a result of growth in the western portion of the county.

"There is no other issue that is as emotionally charged," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin referring to the scores of residents who turned out for the hearing. "We face this every time we open a new school."

Howard County has opened 26 schools since 1990, said Courtney Watson, chairman of the school board, who noted that the county absorbs 500 to 700 new students each year.

On Tuesday, about 100 residents attended a public hearing at the Howard County Board of Education. About 30 people addressed the board in three-minute intervals.

The comments of Terry Paul - mother of two Manor Woods Elementary School pupils and one Folly Quarter Middle School pupil - underlined the passion that can accompany even the most routine redistricting decisions.

Paul, who was dressed in a red shirt as were a dozen neighbors, opposes having their children transfer to schools other than Manor Woods. "Our neighborhoods form a community. Manor Woods is our anchor. The current plan splits a community that does not need to be."

Tina Peck of Ellicott City, mother of two pupils who would be affected by the changes, held up pictures of her children as she addressed the board. Her seventh-grade son, Zack, would move from Dunloggin Middle to Ellicott Mills Middle, and her fifth-grade daughter, Allie, would advance from Northfield Elementary to Ellicott Mills, instead of Dunloggin.

"No domino move should be considered," Peck said. "It's unacceptable. While I understand that redistricting is a necessary evil, I simply ask that the moves these kids are being asked to endure make sense. This shuffling of kids does have a negative impact on their academic, social and emotional health."

Gordon undecided

Howard County board member Patricia Gordon has not decided whether to seek re-election.

Gordon had been saying recently that she would not run again. But as of Thursday evening, Gordon said a campaign remains up in the air.

"I haven't made up my mind," Gordon said.

Gordon said she reconsidered her stance after being approached by several members of the community who wanted her to remain on the board.

"I was very flattered," she said.

Gordon in 2000 became the first elected African-American member of the board. Asked if, as the only person of color on the board, she felt an obligation to serve, Gordon responded: "I do feel it is necessary to have someone on the board who is interested with their concerns. They need someone."

Gordon said she plans to think about her decision more closely during the school system's winter break.

Sigaty's future

The future for board member Mary Kay Sigaty also remains clouded.

Sigaty, who was elected last year, confirmed this week that she is considering running for County Council.

"I have had people ask me to do it," Sigaty said of a council run. "I've been met with positive response. I'm taking all these things into account."

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