Prince George’s parents discuss school boundary changes

December 20, 2013

Parents in Prince George’s County were given a chance to weigh in this week on the school system’s plan to shift some sixth-graders from elementary to middle school, to expand some specialty programs, and to open a new elementary school with a creative and performing arts theme in Hyattsville.

Schools Chief Executive Kevin M. Maxwell offered a glimpse of his plans during his fiscal 2015 budget presentation this month, and parents were given a few more details during three forums last week about how the changes in the proposed budget might affect where students could attend school next year.

Johndel F. Jones-Brown, director of the department of pupil accounting and school boundaries, told more than 50 people who attended a session at Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville that Maxwell has not submitted a proposal to the school board yet and was interested in getting input from residents on the recommendations.

Discussions about boundary changes often evoke controversy, with parents worrying that their child could be forced to attend a different school that has lower test scores or fewer program offerings.

For example, the county approved a plan four years ago that included the closure of eight schools and boundary changes for 62 others, affecting more than 13,000 students. This year, the recommendations are less controversial.

Maxwell said that even though he has the power to close down schools without school board approval under state legislation that restructured the school system, his focus is “looking at programs rather than shutting things down.”

“I’m not proposing closing any schools,” he said. “While the legislation gives me a lot of latitude . . . I don’t plan on putting out edicts. I want to engage the public before we make those kind of decisions.”

Maxwell plans to continue an effort, which began about five years ago, to place sixth-graders with seventh- and eighth-graders.

“The basic overwhelming reason is academics” Jones-Brown said. “But for some locations, it also relieves overcrowding. We actually get a dual benefit.”

Maxwell said the system has not fully committed to middle schools that consist of sixth- to eighth-grade students, largely because there aren’t enough seats in some middle schools.

For example, to accommodate the sixth-graders from Barack Obama Elementary School, which is crowded, the system recommends redrawing the boundary lines for James Madison Middle School and Kettering Middle School.

Jones-Brown also outlined Maxwell’s plan to bring International Baccalaureate programs to Melwood Elementary in Upper Marlboro, Dwight Eisenhower Middle in Laurel and John Hanson French Immersion in Oxon Hill and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs to Oxon Hill Middle and Thomas Johnson Middle in Lanham.

“I’m just concerned that we have programs plopped here and there,” Maxwell said, noting that the high school IB and STEM programs need feeders.

Maxwell also plans to expand the French immersion programs at John Hanson and Robert Goddard in Seabrook; the Montessori programs at John Hanson, Judith P. Hoyer and Robert Goddard; and the Talented and Gifted program at Mattaponi Elementary in Upper Marlboro, Kenmoor Middle in Hyattsville and Walker Mill Middle in Capitol Heights.

The plan also calls for the creation of a new Spanish immersion program.

Carlos Hernandez said he was pleased to hear that county schools would offer Spanish immersion programs, but he told school officials this week that he is worried that his daughter, who attends a school that is being considered as a site for one of the programs, could be uprooted from her school.

Cesar Chavez Elementary in Chillum is one of three schools under consideration. The other schools are Phyllis E. Williams Elementary in Largo and Overlook Elementary in Suitland.

Hernandez said his daughter, Natalie, a first-grader, attended Carole Highlands Elementary in Takoma Park last year. Her kindergarten classroom had 26 students, one teacher and no aide. He requested and received a transfer to Cesar Chavez.

“We had to jump through hoops to get her transferred,” Hernandez said. “Now it looks like that effort would be in vain.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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