Parents reject crowding solution

Portable planned at Jones Elementary

April 18, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

Jones Elementary School parents are fighting a proposal to place the first portable classroom in front of their school -- an eyesore they worry will lower property values and disrupt one of the smallest and highest-performing schools in Anne Arundel County.

Their struggle has put them at odds with Principal Kathleen Fitzgerald and the district's facility officials, who say the portable is necessary as the Severna Park school grows by at least 30 students to accommodate two new full-day kindergarten classes.

Parents say the school system should have notified them earlier about the plan and done more to find extra classroom space inside the school. The district says it has no obligation to let parents know of minor matters concerning new programs or facilities.

The dispute goes before the school board tonight. Parents plan to air their concerns at the public comment session at the 7 p.m. meeting at district headquarters, 2644 Riva Road in Annapolis.

What might seem like a minor matter -- considering more than 200 portables fill school campuses across the county -- has caused an uncommon rift in a Severna Park known for high levels of community involvement.

During the course of the year, more than 100 parents and community leaders volunteer in the library, read to classes and hold after-school art appreciation programs. Parents say their heavy involvement is one of the things that has kept the school of 308 students successful.

But they say they feel suddenly marginalized after learning of the proposal in February, two months after school officials decided to add the portable.

"We didn't buy a house. We bought a school district," said Mimi Shea, who moved with her family from Eastport to Severna Park four years ago because of what she'd heard about high-performing Severna Park schools.

Bruce Nelson, a Jones Elementary parent who is spearheading the opposition, said teacher planning areas and "resource" rooms used for small-group instruction could be combined to create more space for new students without adding a portable.

"We spent all this money upgrading the school eight years ago, and now we're gonna mar it with a portable out front. It's just not what we want," said Nelson, who has the support of the entire PTA.

School officials say a portable classroom, which costs about $125,000, was the best option available. Jones Elementary is "maxed out," Fitzgerald said.

"We hold band and string classes on the stage. We don't have a science lab because we're using it as an extra classroom," she said.

The school is even moving two of its special education classes to Shipley's Choice Elementary because the new full-day kindergarten classes do not allow enough room to hold them, Fitzgerald said. The school plans to hold a music class in the portable, so that no one group of students spends an entire day or week there.

Jones is in the last wave of Anne Arundel County schools to shift from half-day kindergarten programs to full-day. Full-day kindergarten, which has taken five years to implement statewide, was part of a push to improve academic rigor among the state's youngest schoolchildren.

The process had gone smoothly in Anne Arundel County, schools facilities manager Larry Alberts said, until now.

"We've mainly been working with a lot of Severna Park schools, which are tight with space and bursting at the seams," he said. "We have 17 schools to do -- and 10 of them need portables. It's just one of those realities parents need to realize."

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