The Montgomery County school board has designated 11 schools to be studied this year for closure. The schools are part of a new five-year plan on use of school facilities that board members approved this week.
Five are elementary schools, all in the Bethesda area, and the other six are junior highs along the Georgia Avenue corridor in Silver Spring and Wheaton. The board has asked communities to form local evaluation committees composed of parents, teachers and other residents. The committees will meet with school system staff members before decisions on closures are made.
The elementary schools are Bethesda, Bradley, Radnor, Brookmont and Westbrook, and the junior highs are Belt, Eastern, Lee, Randolph, Sligo and Takoma Park. All are being studied for closure by September 1979.
The school board postponed study of four senior high schools included in the five-year plan - Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton, all in the Silver Spring-Wheaton area - until board members decide on possible revisions in the curriculum and organization of senior highs in the county. That decision will come sometime in late winter or early next spring, according to George Fisher, director of planning for the school system.
The five-year plan also specifies other school clusters in which facilities eventually will be considered for closing. The clusters are scattered throughout the county, from Bethesda and Chevy Chase downcounty to Gaithersburg and Damascus upcounty. They are in areas where enrollment drops are expected between now and 1983.
The plan does not specify which shhools within each of the groups should be considered for closing. It states only that the candidate schools should be picked from the groups named in the plan. The groups include elementary and junior and senior high schools. The school system planning staff has listed times when enrollment problems will become critical in each of the groups.
Fisher predicts that 10 to 15 schools will be closed over the next five years.
"We've gotten over the worst part of elementary school closures," he said, noting that 22 schools, only one of which was a junior high, have been closed in the past five years. "Now the problem is at junior and senior high schools," he said.
The five-year plan sets criteria to indicate when schools should be considered for closing. When enrollments drop below 1,000 in a senior high, below 600 in a junior high and under 200 in an elementary school, the facilities will be studied for possible closure. A school also will face possible cloing when it is filled to only 70 percent of its capacity.
"If we find this doesn't work, (the plan) can be revised," said Fisher. "I got some criticism that the numbers were too conservative."
Some citizens felt schools should be closed before they reached the enrollment cutoffs now set, a sentiment Fisher said he did not find surprising.
"Most of the parents were concerned about losing staff in a school," he explained. "They were concerned about losing an assistant principal or some of their special staff. That happens to schools sooner than they hit those numbers."
When enrollments dip in schools, staff slots and special programs often get cut. Fisher said. Enrollment can drop enough to cause staff cuts but not closure, but when this happens some school officials would rather close, he added.
"Walter Johnson Senior High is concerned about the staff they've lost. So is Einstein Senior High," said Fisher. Each school has lost about 400 students in the past six years, he said.
Fisher believes that the five-year plan is a healthy way to approach the closing of schools.
"It gives everyone a chance to see what the projected problems are and when they should be addressed," said Fisher.