Baltimore County considers new STEM school

It could help relieve elementary overcrowding

March 24, 2011|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County school officials are exploring the possibility of building a science and math school for grades kindergarten through eighth grade in the northwest area, which would be the first school of its kind in the county.

The school, which is still in the conceptual stage, would help to relieve overcrowding in the elementary grades in that area as well as provide a more concentrated focus on subjects that state and national leaders say are important to making the country economically competitive. State education leaders are currently setting up numerous programs in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects. Across the state, several other districts have started STEM schools.

Harford County opened a STEM magnet program at Aberdeen High School about six years ago. A science-focused charter school in Anne Arundel County, which also has a STEM high school, has proved to be one of the highest-performing middle schools in the state. In addition, Baltimore City has both middle and high schools, such as Polytechnic Institute, with programs that focus on science.

Overcrowding has been a long-term issue in the county, and officials released projections Tuesday night that predict enrollment in the county will grow by 5,000 students over the next decade. The elementary schools in the county are the most overcrowded now, and two schools in the York Road corridor, Hampton and Stoneleigh, are far above capacity.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has recommended that the school district consider moving fifth-graders to middle schools, but school officials said they calculated enrollment and found that such a transfer would leave most middle schools in the county overcrowded.

Parents of Stoneleigh Elementary students have said they do not want their fifth-graders sent to Dumbarton Middle School near Towson but want an addition and renovation to the current building.

Roger Plunkett, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the new STEM school could be divided into two parts, a kindergarten through fourth grade and a fifth through eighth grade.

He said students, parents, teachers and other groups around the county would be included in the discussion as the school system develops a plan. Plunkett said he had few details because the school district is in the planning stages, but the first details are expected to emerge by the end of this school year.

However, Plunkett also said the system may not build a brand-new school but is also considering its existing buildings. "We are considering all available facilities and resources that we have. We are going to look at the current facilities first," Plunkett said.

But Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the northwest area has two elementary schools that are crowded and are approaching 1,000 students each and have "no prospects for relief anywhere."

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