The seven public schools in the Takoma Park cluster of Montgomery County will offer alternative programs starting this fall ranging from one in which children will speak French throughout most of the school day to one in whcih students will be allowed to advance at their own rate of learning.
The plan, approved last month by the board of education, is part of the county's efforts to cope with declining overall school enrollments and increasing concentrations of minorities in down-county schools, according to Supt. Charles M. Bernardo.
Under the county's policy, said Bernardo, "Decisions to improve racial balance should also improve educational opportunities . . . Success (of the Takoma plan) will rest greatly upon community support and choices parents make to select programs which are beneficial to their children."
All of the Takoma Park cluster's schools will teach basic educational skills in reading, composition, listening and speaking, mathematics, the arts, study and observation. The differences will be in the special programs that will be in the special programs that will be available at different schools and the way in which subjects are taught.
The concept of magnet schools - providing special programs or teaching methods at a particular school to attract students - has become increasingly used in school systems under court-ordered desegregation and areas attempting to avoid such desegregation, said Carolyn Gilder, deputy director of the Office of Programs and Policy Review in the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
County students now are assigned to a school based upon where they live but transfers are allowed. Under the new plan, the situation in Takoma Park cluster will differ from most in the county in that bus service will be available for some students who do not attend their assigned schools.
Transfer requests for students in the Takoma cluster must be submitted by May 15. Approval will be based on impact on racial balance, overcrowding or underutilization, transportation and special learning needs in each school, said Gil Valdez, director of the quality integrated education office of the county board of education.
For the past two years, the county has been developing plans for voluntary desegregation although the Department of Health, Educaiton and Welfare ruled in 1975 that the county was in compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The ruling said that racial imbalance in some country schools was due to "shifting population and housing parents," not a policy of discrimination.
The county divided the down-county schools into four neighborhood groups known as clusters, then developed desegregation plans for each cluster. The Rosemary Hills cluster in Silver Spring was the first to be desegregated. Its plan involved mandatory busing. The Takoma Park plan is the latest to be approved.
Minority enrollment in the cluster's schools ranges from 20 per cent at Highland View Elementary to 57 per cent at Takoma Park Elementary, said Valdez.
Because an incresing number of minorities is expected to move to the part of the county that borders on the District and Prince George's County, the plan "is more concerned with the concentrations than the total number of minorities. We don't want one school with 15-20 per cent minorities while the other school has 95 per cent minorities," Valdez said.
The following is a list of the schools in the cluster and their special programs:
East Silver Spring Elementary will emphasize continuous progress. Teachers will pinpoint each child's specific skill needs and then provide appropriate instruction. Children will be advanced as soon as they are ready.
Four Corners Elementary School will continue offering a voluntary French immersion program in which some children have the opportunity to learn their subjects in French. Those children will be taught throughout the day in French, learning to speak, read, write and think in that language. Students who are not in the immersion classes will also learn some French through classes, tape recordings of children's stories, signs around the school and announcements in both languages.
Highland View Elementary School will continue offering self-contained single-grade classes that operate under a well-defined discipline code stressing cooperative student behavior. The school will be for students of all ability levels who learn best in a highly structured setting.
Oak View Elementary will continue its voluntary Spanish bicultural program. Children who elect that option will receive Spanish language instruction each day.
Piney Branch Middle School uses the "open space concept," and will have a special science program run by a full-time science teacher, two reading-language arts specialists to provide special remedial help, an industrial arts class, a nine-week home arts class and several computer terminals to assits students in learning math skills. The physical education program features swimming and a fully-equipped gym.
Rolling Terrace Elementary will continue offering a volumtary Spanish bicultural program similar to the one offered at Oak View. The school will also offer a special program for highly able readers.
Takoma Park Elementary will place emphasis on strenghtening the ties between family and school. Parents, teachers and community agency representatives will develop curriculum together. To aid parent participation, there is a parent resource room with a lending library of toys and sewing patterns and a cooperative babysitting service to help parents take part in workshops and training sessions related to the school program. Beginning in 1978, the school will offer a program for gifted and talented students.
The system in the Takoma Park cluster in scheduled for review after three years to determine whether it will be continued.