Correction to This Article
This article about overcrowding in Chevy Chase elementary schools incorrectly said that it was Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast who proposed three options the week before to allow Chevy Chase students a wider range of classes. The Montgomery County Board of Education proposed the options.

Overcrowded sixth grades concern parents

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 8:18 PM

Parents in Chevy Chase said Tuesday that they remain deeply concerned about funding cuts that have slimmed offerings in their two packed elementary schools, even as they support a proposal to build a middle school that eventually would relieve some of the pressure.

The issue has been one of the most hotly contested as the Montgomery County school board begins planning its budget for the next year, and parents planned to turn out in force at hearings about facilities and school construction Wednesday and Thursday. Many are concerned about the sixth grades at Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary schools, which this year were hit with cuts that made them less comparable to the sixth grades at nearby middle schools.

The two elementary schools are the only ones in the county that still have sixth grades. Budget cuts led to fewer art, language and social studies classes this year than at Westland Middle School, where students go for seventh and eighth grades, and the school days are also shorter. A proposal from Superintendent Jerry D. Weast last month to construct a middle school and move the sixth-graders there would not solve the issue for several years.

"Parents understand the financial situation that the county is in," said Jennifer Mitchell, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Chevy Chase Elementary. But, she said, "You're really talking about a few teachers" who could make the difference.

Last week, Weast proposed three more options to allow students to have a wider choice of classes. One would be to allow incoming sixth-graders at Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase to transfer to Westland Middle starting in the 2011-2012 school year. But that runs the risk of further depleting resources for the students who stay behind.

Another proposal is simply to assign all the sixth-graders to Westland. But that would pack more than 1,500 students into a middle school built for 1,060. The third would be to shift boundaries in the area to reduce crowding, but that would take at least four years to go into effect.

Mitchell said that she and other parents were cautious about the proposals and wanted to learn more about their implications.

"We need solutions for the long term and not just a quick fix for this," she said.

Other parents said they were frustrated.

"In the last two years, the cuts that we've had to take are just ridiculous," said Holly Gross, a PTA co-president at Rosemary Hills Primary School and the mother of a fifth-grader at North Chevy Chase. "It's just an unfortunate situation," she said. North Chevy Chase is 197 students over capacity at 427. Rosemary Hills, with kindergarten to second grades that feed both crowded elementary schools, is 182 students over capacity at 659.

At 144,000 students, Montgomery's is the largest school system in Maryland and the 16th largest in the country. Class rolls grew by more than 2,000 this year, and the school system anticipates adding 10,000 more by 2015.

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