Claggett Elementary in Prince George’s may close; low enrollment, poor performance cited

The Prince George’s County school system has applied for a state grant that would allow it to shut a low-performing elementary school in District Heights.

Thomas Claggett Elementary School would close at the start of the 2015-16 school year if the Maryland State Department of Education approves the application. The school would be the first in the county to close in more than five years. In 2009, when William R. Hite Jr. was superintendent, the board approved a major reorganization that closed eight schools and adjusted the boundaries of 62 others.

The closure would be part of a School Improvement Grant program, which provides funding designed to “raise substantially the achievement of students” in the lowest-performing schools, according to a letter schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell sent to the Board of Education in April.

The school system could receive a maximum of $50,000 to aid in Claggett’s closure , allowing it to move Claggett students to higher-achieving schools in the district.

Under Maxwell’s plan, submitted to state officials this month, Claggett would close and William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale would undergo what is called a “transformation,” which would affect staffing at the 854-student school. Under the plan, the principal at William Wirt would be replaced in August; the school system would identify and reward teachers who increase student achievement; financial incentives would be offered to recruit and retain staff; and a “rigorous” evaluation system would take effect.

Denise Greene, an associate superintendent for the school system, said the grants provide four reform options to the school system for dealing with low-performing schools: turnaround, restart, transformation and closure.

Greene said Tuesday that the primary factor in seeking to close Claggett is its continuous drop in enrollment. The school serves mostly poor students — 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-priced meals — and it has struggled with enrollment and academic achievement for years.

In 2005, Claggett was the least-filled elementary school in the county, running at 49 percent capacity with 236 students on campus. A couple of years later, then-Superintendent John Deasy included the school in a major reorganization plan that called for the pre-K through sixth-grade school to become a pre-K through eight-grade school housing a language-immersion program. It never happened.

Enrollment peaked at 290 students in 2010, but it has dropped almost an average of 25 students each year since then. The school currently has 216 students, and schools officials have projected that 187 students will be there in August.

“It’s a very transient community with significant economic needs,” Greene said, noting that District Heights also is an aging community.

Carolyn M. Boston, the vice chairman of the Board of Education and the representative for the District Heights area, said the plan has not been formally presented to the board. And although she said she does not support school closures, she said she understands the need because of the enrollment drop.

“We have surrounding schools that would have seats” for Claggett students, she said.

The school system, which held a community meeting last month to discuss the grant application, is planning another meeting with parents, Greene said.

“Their primary concern is where their child will go,” Greene said. “We will be very transparent and very forthcoming with information to keep them as informed as we can.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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