Howard County School Board Narrows Redistricting Options

Words: Delanie Tucker

The Howard County School Board is in the process of resolving the overpopulation of several Howard County schools.

In a recent Board Meeting on October 11, 2018, the board met for the second time this academic year to discuss redistricting options for upcoming school years.

Caroline Walker, Executive Director of Program Innovation and Student Well-Being, presented and explained several options to relieve the overcrowding of Howard County schools, particularly focusing on Howard High School and Centennial High School.

The options consist primarily of voluntary changes, some for only a portion of the school day and others for the entire year.

The ideas presented were: a Howard County Community College Shuttle, JumpStart Program at Wilde Lake High School, Project Lead the Way at Marriotts Ridge High School, reassignment, additional ARL courses, and additional sections of work-based options.

The Howard County Community Shuttle would consist of participating students, juniors and seniors staying at their home school for first period to participate in classes such as band or orchestra and then taking a bus to HCC. The students will take and receive credit for college-level courses, as well as finish out their graduation required classes.

Students would be picked up by bus from their home school and be taken to HCC. These buses, though, would cost $9,000 a piece if they were to travel to Centennial or Howard to pick up students.

The problem presented with this option, pointed out by Sandra French, a member of the Board, was that music classes are not during first period, and not all classes can be moved to first period to fit the needs of certain students.

Walker predicted, based off a previous survey, that 40-60 students would participate in the HCC shuttle.

The JumpStart program at Wilde Lake High School would require students to transfer to Wilde Lake in order to participate.

It has an estimated price of $250,000, which would vary depending on the number of participating students.

This particular program is directed towards students interested in performing arts and film production. The arts program at Wilde Lake is looking to progress, and offers better opportunities for interested artists. The estimated participation for this is 15-20 students from each school.

Project Lead the Way, on the other hand, consists of a Biochemical Academy and a Computer Science Academy.

Again, this option would require a school transfer, this time to Marriotts Ridge High School.

Additionally, Walker presented an estimated price of $63,000, which is a combination of material and training for all academies.

The option of reassignment, previously known as open enrollment, would give students free reign to transfer to either Glenelg High School or Marriotts Ridge High School. A problem presented with this, though, is that students would have to provide their own transportation.

A positive with this option is that it would cost nothing to implement.

Additional sections of work-based options would help to decrease overcrowding during the day. Examples are GT intern/mentor, apprenticeship, and work release, all of which would help upperclassmen get real-world experience.

The problem with this, though, is the more students that enter the program, the more teachers they will need. A new teacher would cost the board $84,000.

Ideally, the Board would like to implement most, if not all, ideas at once. Their concern revolves around the question: where will the money come from?

The last option to fix overcrowding issues, presented by Anissa Brown Dennis, Chief Operating Officer, was redistricting in the form of boundary changes.

Her original intent was to present all plan options, which included: 2017 Feasibility Study Plan, 2017 Attendance Area Committee Plan I and II (August and September), Community plans as identified by Board members, and Howard High School small feeds.

The Board, however, voted to discontinue the presentation after the 2017 Feasibility Plan, and instead had conversation about small feeds.

Their votes were primarily based around the fact that, in a previous meeting, they had voted to not change school boundaries for the upcoming school year, so the presentation did not seem necessary at that moment.

The Board will begin making decisions in regard to the 2019-2020 school year in a meeting on October 18.

In a previous meeting on August 23, there was an idea of temporary and permanent freshmen redistricting, but this idea seems to have been taken out of the conversation, as it was not mentioned in the recent meeting.

This option would have consisted of incoming freshmen being relocated, either for just their freshman year or possibly their entire high school career.

Since no final changes have been made, Centennial students will have to work through the issues overcrowding brings.

Cynthia Dillon, Centennial’s principal who was present at the meeting, is confident in her students’ ability to make their school environment as comfortable as possible, despite the circumstances.

“The distances the students have to travel, while they are in some crowded hallways, they are very creative about how they get from point A to point B,” Dillon stated at the meeting. “They are also using their time. They are walking with a purpose, they are being efficient with how they get from point A to point B and we have not identified a problem with students arriving to class tardy.”

Ellie Zoller-Gritz contributed with background information, analysis and images for this article.

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