"We're very peace-loving, quiet people unless we're poked with a stick," said Takoma Park parent Faith Stern. "Then we respond."
Stern is leading a group of Takoma Park Junior High School parents, teachers and administrators who are responding to a "poke" from the Montgomery County school board. In July, the board named their school as one of 11 county schools to be studied for possible closure as county-wide enrollment figures continue to fall.
As president of the school's Local Evaluation Committee (LEC), Stern is head of the community effort to keep Takoma Park Junior High open. Committees are making similar efforts at each of the 10 other schools named for closure study - Belt, Eastern, Lee, Randolph and Sligo junior highs and Brookmont, Westbrook, Bethesda, Bradley and Radnor elementary schools.
Stern is the veteran of an emotional controversy that surrounded the closure of Silver Spring. Intermediate school five years ago. During that 1973 fith, 10 families filed a suit after they were informed the school was to be closed. The parents lost their case.
Incidents like this led communities to complaint that the school system was not consulting them in designating schools for closure, said George Fisher, director of the system's facility planning and development department.
Faced with these charges, and the prospect of declining enrollment which would mean more school closures, the board adopted a policy in 1974 that called for organization of LEGs at every school designated as a candidate for closure.
The LEC's prime goal is to compile information on the school's education programs, its role in the community and how it meets the students' unique educational needs.
The school principal and PTA president organize the LEC, with aid from the area superintendent. Committee members should represent a broad range of the community, Fisher noted. Minorities should be represented in accordance with the community's minority population, and secondary school LECs should have as members representatives from each of the "feeder" schools.
For the past several months, each of the 11 LECs has been compiling a report to submit to school superintendent Charles M. Bernardo by Wednesday. Bernardo will meet with the committees and school administrators in each study area during November to discuss the reports, and will make a recommendation on which school or schools to close by Dec. 1.
The school board will hold public hearings on closure of these schools during December and January and is scheduled to make a decision by Feb. 1.
Over the last five years, the board has closed 23 schools as enrollment declined from a peak of 126,311 in 1972 to 108,000 in 1978.
"Most of the recommendations the superintendent makes the board adopts," said Fisher, who noted that there have been some exceptions. The best example may be Woodside elementary in Silver Spring, which Benardo recommended for closure in the spring of 1976.
As a result of the LEC dialogue with the board, the school remained open, Fisher said. Other schools crossed off the "hit list" after LECs pleaded their case include New Hampshire Estates, Brookview, English Manor and Harmony Hills.
Inspired by these victories, "each LEC tries to think of everything they possibly can to convince the powers that be that they are worthy of being kept alive," said LEC chairperson Stern. "It can be a very unplesant and very tense process, but if you don't participate you know you will be closed."
After months of wrestling with questionnaires, enrollment projections and student needs studies, the Takoma Park LEC has concluded that the school will not be underenrolled or underutilized - the school system's two prime justifications for closure.
The reasons they cited for keeping the school open include Takoma Park's growth potential, it's outstanding programs and recent renovations, for which there is strill a $1.1 million debt. Takoma Park also runs an extensive "community schoo," offering such activities as Big Brothers, English instruction of the foreign-born, yoga lessons and after-school tutoring programs.
The main reason to keep the school open, however, is "the human factor," noted LEC member David Weisman. "Closing the school would be like splitting up the community," said Weisman, who is also a City Council member. "The school serves so many different purposes. Plus it's totally integrated, and my wife and I chose the area for that reason."
Since some schools are almost certain to be closed, there is an uneasy feeling of competition toward the other schools under closure study. Some of the LEC members share a fear that another school's LECs will write better report or submit a more convincing document that will save that school at Takoma Park's expense.
"We'd hate to see any of them closed," said Weisman. "But you've got to fight for what's yours."
Some committee members also fear that "after all is said and done, will anything really matter?" Stern said. "I think at the back of our minds is the question, 'Is it genuine, or is it just a game with puppets - you do your thing and we'll go ahead and do ours."
Despite these tensions, the LEC's effort to save the school has "developed a warm feeling among the people who are working together," noted assistant principal Edward Shirley.
And at least one committee member has taken an optimistic view.
"We just don't believe it (closure) can happen," said 10-year Takoma Park staff member Freddye Davy. "Certainly some (teachers) are apprehensive and are looking out to see where their next move would be.
"But personally I cannot see any argument for closure, and I have faith that no institution in its right mind could close the school."