Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring was identified incorrectly in a story in last week's Maryland Weekly about a proposal to send pupils now attending Forest Grove pupils to Woodlin when Forest Grove is closed.
The Montgomery County school board last week reaffirmed its decision to merge Woodlin and Woodside elementary schools in Silver Spring, despite objections from two members that the consolidated school would be overcrowded and racially imbalanced.
The board did agree, however, to offer parents another chance to discuss how they would like to handle the expected overflow of students at the Woodlin complex while a $1.5 million addition is being built.
Barbara Faigin, president of the joint Woodlin-Woodside PTA, said she would poll parents to get their views. Paired schools, Woodlin houses grades K-3, while Woodside has grades 4-6.
The Woodlin-Woodside decision was expected by school officials to be the last of the current round of school closing decisions, during which the board voted to close 28 schools because of dwindling enrollments.
The board reached its latest decision after an hour of debate before a standing room only audience of parents from Woodlin, Woodside and Forest Grove elementaries.
Forest Grove residents said they welcomed the decision, which will allow their school to be consolidated with Oakland Terrace Elementary next fall. One plan, which the board rejected, would have reduced the minority enrollment at Woodlin by sending Forest Grove students to Woodlin instead of Oakland Terrace.
Parents from Woodlin and Woodside, interviewed at the meeting, said they were satisfied with the board's decision.
"The plan they adopted pretty much reflected our plan from last summer," said PTA president Faigin.
That plan, which included some attendance boundary changes, will reduce Woodlin's almost 65 percent minority enrollment to about 60 percent. It will keep most of the Woodlin and Woodside students together, but will send a few students south of Colesville Road to other schools, she said.
Faigin said she thought an acceptable housing plan could be worked out when the two schools' 350 students converge on Woodlin next fall. Under the staff plan, the students would be housed in Woodlin's three buildings, plus as many as six portable classrooms, while the school complex is enlarged. In an earlier plan, only four portable classrooms would have been provided.
Although students will be squeezed into "every nook and cranny," Faigin said, she felt that negotiations with the school system to keep many special programs looked promising. Maintaining the quality of programs for both the gifted and the students below grade level were more of a concern to parents, she said, than reducing racial imbalance.
Although Woodlin's test scores are among the lowest in the county--brought down, Faigin said, by the scores of the large number of non-English speaking children in the community--"nearly 30 percent of our kids satisfied the criteria for the gifted and talented program."
Woodlin Principal Don Pfau said, "We have a high minority school that works and works well. The staff is terrific."
Faigin said the community had voted again and again to stay with its schools. "We feel our kids are getting as good an education as they could anywhere."
Despite that, Woodlin's high minority enrollment dominated the board's often rancorous discussion last week.
Board members Blair Ewing and Joseph Barse said it was unacceptable not to address the problems of racial imbalance and overcrowding at Woodlin-Woodside. A failure to change Woodlin's high minority enrollment, Ewing contended, could leave the board open to charges--if not of resegregation--then of ignoring "a better solution."
The State Board of Education is currently reviewing complaints that the Montgomery board's recent school closings will have an adverse effect on racial balance in the county. A ruling is expected in May. The case involves six schools in the Silver-Spring-Takoma Park area.
Steve Derby, the board's attorney on desegregation matters, said that the alternative plan--to send Forest Grove students to Woodlin--made the "most dramatic improvement in racial balance, but also has the most dramatic impact of moving communities around."
That alternative would have included sending some students from Woodlin and Woodside to three other schools.
Through much of the discussion, it became clear that months of haggling over massive school closings had begun to tell on the board and staff. At one point, board member Elizabeth Spencer complained, "Is it clear to the staff that we're not going to pick up this mouse and worry it again like some cat?"
Even Superintendent Edward Andrews seemed frustrated by the board's indecisiveness. "The board has to get something settled," he urged. "We're talking about real kids, real teachers. We've got to get something done here. It's March 22."
Member Marian Greenblatt suggested the board do nothing, which would in effect reaffirm the board's previous decisions.
Board president Carol Wallace countered: "All of these people are sitting here and there are dozens more at home. That would be leaving a lot of people in the air."
The board finally voted to reaffirm its previous plan with the indication that Woodlin's racial imbalance might be resolved next year when the board considers boundary changes.
At the urging of Barse and Ewing, the board also discussed other options for housing Woodlin-Woodside students during the renovation, including keeping Woodside open another two years or sending all the students to the empty Forest Grove school.
Faigin said after the meeting that although keeping Woodside open was the community's overwhelming first choice, she was beginning to have second thoughts. Staff members had indicated at the meeting that that option would reduce Woodlin's enrollment, and possibly jeopardize state funding for the Woodlin renovation.
"We wouldn't want to do that," Faigin said.