Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens is pushing for a math-and-science magnet program for Meade High School, and she says a major county employer - defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. - is ready to become a partner in the effort.
"Northrop Grumman ... has made a firm commitment on the magnet school," Owens said Monday in Crownsville before the Maryland Military Installation Strategic Planning Council, a consortium of local, state and federal officials overseeing military growth in Maryland.
The company issued a statement yesterday: "We continue to follow with interest discussions about a proposed magnet school program at Meade High School, an initiative we clearly support. However, we have yet to determine the level of in-kind or direct financial support that would be available from Northrop Grumman."
Local, state and military leaders have pursued a magnet program at Meade to bolster the school's academic reputation and attract thousands of defense workers, mostly from Northern Virginia, who are considering whether to relocate to Fort Meade.
About 5,300 government jobs are supposed to come to the Army post within the next six years because of the national base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC. Tens of thousands of private-sector contractors are expected to follow.
Owens said Northrop Grumman, which has offices in Linthicum, has indicated a willingness to provide funds and personnel. She said that she, along with Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, Fort Meade's commander, are seeking public and private partners that would help with funding a magnet concept at Meade, making improvements, designing a curriculum and providing mentoring opportunities.
"Everybody I talk to is interested in community partnering" for the magnet program, McCreedy said, adding that federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Security Agency, which both have a presence at Fort Meade, are discussing how they could play a role.
McCreedy said of potential partners: "They will step up to be ready when the county is ready."
But when the county will be ready is not clear.
There is no magnet program at Meade, and no plans exist to put one there - at least not plans made by the Anne Arundel Board of Education. A magnet would be a county-run public school with a specialized course of study that would be open to students outside its regular attendance zone.
"We're pleased that business partners are willing to step in, but it's a little premature," said board Vice President Tricia Johnson.
Owens put forth the idea of the magnet program at Meade, to the surprise of school officials, when she presented her legislative agenda in January. She has sought $2 million from the state to fund the project.
"We will change the image issue of the Meade feeder system," said Owens, who is in the last year of her term and is weighing a congressional bid this year.
School officials and board members took up concerns about Meade when they debated last year whether to add the International Baccalaureate program to the school. Then-superintendent Eric J. Smith argued that adding the IB program - a rigorous curriculum that is recognized around the world - would make the school and the county more attractive to families relocating to Fort Meade.
State and local politicians and McCreedy were among those who appealed to the board to add the program, noting the impending growth of the Army post.
The board first denied the expansion, then approved it in December. But during the debate, board members said they'd like to look into creating a math-science magnet, or a different type of magnet school, maybe for fine arts or the performing arts.
But they didn't necessarily mean at Meade, Johnson said.
"We have a lot of steps to get through first. We have to institute a magnet policy and would have to determine ... what assets we've got to [locate] the magnet and the cost of transportation," Johnson said. "There's a lot to it."
The school board also is awaiting the results of a school system facilities study, which will provide a projection of the county's demographics and future classroom needs. It also should offer the board help in long-range planning for the use of school facilities.
The board likely will discuss creating magnet schools, Johnson said, but it could be years before it is on the board's agenda.
Owens said she realizes that a math-science magnet school is not on the immediate horizon.
"I know it's not going to happen tomorrow," Owens said. But it's time "to put all the building blocks in place."
Aris Melissaratos, the secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, praised the county for committing to the IB program at Meade. He also said a magnet program was vitally important to the area's future.
"We need that," Melissaratos said.