While the Montgomery County Board of Education was engaged in the controversial closing of 27 schools this fall, the County Council of PTAs was studying the outcome of earlier school closings.
The PTA panel polled principals and PTA presidents at the 34 schools closed between 1973 and 1980 and at the schools that received pupils in a merger.
The chief finding: The principal is the most important element in assuring a smooth consolidation.
"A strong, effective principal, who communicates well and works hard to integrate students and staff, can help make the consolidation work," said Zoe Lefkowitz, president of the countywide PTA council. Lefkowitz will present the survey results to the council's executive board today.
The PTA survey, designed to help schools facing shutdown in the next few years, also found:
* About half the parents and principals who answered the survey thought the educational quality improved at the new, consolidated school. Improvements included having more programs, more staff and more flexibility in the larger school. Others said they saw no change in the quality, while a few people were unhappy about larger class sizes or the frequent movement of special education programs.
* Parents seemed more hostile about closings than children, Lefkowitz said. Parents were most unhappy when they had to go through the closure process again this year for another school in their neighborhood. They also were most angry when the board closed a school on short notice.
*The respondents were divided on the question of how well students reacted to a consolidation. About half said that students adjusted well after initial apprehension and that they benefited from a better academic program and larger staff. Drawbacks included longer travel time to school and the loss of friends.
* One of the biggest worries among principals was low morale among faculty members concerned about finding new jobs.
*The use of a vacant school building was listed as a key factor in the community's satisfaction with a closing. Several respondents reported that their community remains split because of the bitter debates, with some neighbors still not speaking to each other.
* While PTA presidents complained that some board decisions were short-sighted and some closings were done too quickly, they also said they wouldn't want a school closing to be announced several years in advance because they wouldn't want a "dead" school on their hands.
After analyzing the survey results, the PTA council will make recommendations to the school system on how to ease the transition after a school is closed, Lefkowitz said.