Prince George's community wants long-promised elementary school

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 6:18 PM

For more than six years, Prince George's County real estate agents often have told young families looking to settle in the planned community of Fairwood that an elementary school would be built soon on a 15-acre plot set aside by the developer.

The new residents of Fairwood, many of whom paid more than a half-million dollars to live there, formed an education task force to solidify their collective vision for the ultimate 21st century school.

"Our community has higher expectations than what our local schools are delivering," said task force chairman Steve Brigham, a father of two who sends his second-grade daughter to a private school.

After years of aggressive lobbying, the Fairwood community learned last spring that the state and county each had set aside millions to construct their school. Parents looked forward to an opening day in 2013 or 2014, Brigham said.

But late last year, enrollment projections for the area dropped. To justify the need for the new school, Prince George's County school officials are considering closing one of two aging elementary schools in the Bowie area.

That was news last week to many parents and staff members at the two schools marked for possible closure, Glenn Dale and Tulip Grove.

"It was all of a sudden, out of the blue. . . . We didn't know we were being talked about," said Lori Morrow, president of the Tulip Grove PTA. "We're really a great school."

The school system quickly planned a community meeting for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Bowie High School. County School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said this is not just a discussion about closing a school, but also about giving students the opportunity to attend a "newer, more modern facility."

At the time the money was committed to Fairwood, school officials projected that by 2016, the six elementary schools adjacent to Fairwood would have 600 more students than they had seats for.

But then the school system redrew its boundaries countywide and moved sixth-graders from several of the elementary schools to a nearby middle school. Hite said the actions were aimed at balancing school enrollments, getting rid of temporary classrooms and restoring sixth grade to middle schools.

Hite said school officials did not realize that shifting those students would create a surplus of seats at elementary schools near Fairwood, which is just south of Bowie. That prompted state officials to announce late last year that a new elementary school was no longer needed.

Prince George's officials now have a "brief window of opportunity" to present other information to state officials in hopes of changing their minds, according to a proposal to the Board of Education. Closing either Glenn Dale or Tulip Grove, officials said, might change the enrollment projections enough to make the new school once again viable.

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