Redistricting plan fought

Parents, officials at Meade Heights Elementary oppose proposal

January 19, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Theodore Butler likes a lot of things about living in the Spring Meadows community.

That includes the block parties, the community pool and the diversity of the area, which is predominantly African-American but is growing more diverse with Hispanic families.

Mostly, though, he likes the idea that his 2-year-old and 6-month-old children will have a chance to attend Meade Heights Elementary, which overcame low student performance in reading and math eight years ago and has the top student scores in the district.

He was happy in Spring Meadows until now. A new redistricting proposal that would bring more low-income students to Meade Heights Elementary has Butler, who is on the board of directors of his condominium association, and many of his neighbors up in arms.

The proposal would shift most current students to a new school and replace them with students from other communities.

"Putting most of one race and one socioeconomic class in one school, it would be setting us backward," Butler said. "The makeup of a lot of the kids [whom the superintendent] wants to put in our school, they have a lot of issues. I pay taxes. I should be able to send my children to a public school without worrying about the quality going down."

Butler was among more than 100 opponents of the redistricting proposals who packed a school board meeting Wednesday night. Nearly half of those attending the meeting were opposed to Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell's plan for Meade Heights.

The school board voted unanimously Wednesday night to present all of the superintendent's attendance boundary proposals at public hearings this month and in February.

Criticism of two of the superintendent's redistricting proposals, which first went before the board Dec. 6, are expected to dominate the public hearings.

The first would affect Meade Heights Elementary. The second would move freshmen and sophomores from Arundel High School to Meade High, which has struggled with low student performance and high student mobility in the past.

In recent years, Meade High has added an International Baccalaureate program and dozens of advanced courses to improve its standing and to serve stronger students.

Arundel High parents at Wednesday night's meeting said they were not convinced that Meade High has improved enough and that they want to keep their children at Arundel.

Under Maxwell's plan for Meade Heights, about 520 of the school's 717 students would be moved to the new Seven Oaks Elementary school, which is to open in August.

Meade Heights would inherit 51 students from Jessup Elementary. They would come from Pioneer City, a low-income area that has struggled with drug problems and transient families.

The school, which has a capacity for 514 students, would remain far below capacity until a new Blobs Park subdivision with about 1,100 homes opens in two to three years. At that point, school officials have told the Meade Heights staff, the school's demographics will be more balanced.

Teachers and staff members at Meade Heights told school board members that students from Jessup would overwhelm the school with too many low-income students, making the school less economically diverse and vulnerable to low student performance.

"We already fought that fight eight years ago," librarian Jane Chitwood said. "Do not turn us into a poverty school," she told the board Wednesday night.

If the school attendance boundaries are redrawn in the way Maxwell suggests, the proportion of low-income students at Meade Heights would grow from 29 percent to 43 percent, according to school district data. But Chitwood said that number "is not correct" and does not reflect what the lack of economic diversity does for students' social and academic learning.

Eugene Peterson, the board's vice president, said that if school officials go along with what many Meade Heights staff members and parents suggest, it could foster economic segregation.

"In this county, there are 11 schools with larger populations of [low-income] students, one of which, Tyler Heights [Elementary], is a shining example of academic performance because the teachers and staff make it happen," Peterson said.

"Economic segregation is as bad as racial segregation. You have got to learn how to mix and mingle. Isn't that what education is all about, unifying us, not dividing us?"

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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