It has been a tough year for Montgomery County public schools. Decisions to close 19 schools and change boundaries in others were challenged on the state level and in the courts. The system, acclaimed for years as one of the most progressive in the country, was often labeled a dismantler of integration programs and twice excoriated by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist. Budgets were slashed on the local and federal levels and enrollment continued its decade-long decline.
That the 1982-83 school year could be as tumultuous is clear. Court battles continue over schools closed in June, while opponents of closings scheduled for this year and the next vow to continue their fight. Tuition tax credits for private school pupils, now being considered by a Senate committee, could propel more students out of public schools, and federal funding cutbacks will cost the system $1.7 million. If the state's highest court upholds a lower-court ruling requiring all school systems to spend the same amount per pupil, the results for Montgomery could be disastrous. The county, with the highest spending per student in the state, could be required to reduce its budget drastically.
In addition, many of the more controversial decisions made by the conservative school board majority could come up for another round of fighting if more liberal candidates, who have vowed to reconsider a number of the board's decisions, are elected in November. Four of the seven school board seats are up for election.
Despite these soundings of bad news and the transfer of 5,700 students into new schools, however, administrators and educators say that life in the classroom -- as opposed to the Board of Education meeting room -- will be much the same for its 92,168 students as it was last year.
"There is uncertainty and anxiety over the school closings, but when it comes to the classroom, classes should be just the same," said Sally Keeler, a spokeswoman for the second largest school system in the state. "No matter what school a child goes to, they will meet Montgomery County teachers who have the same qualifications teaching the same specific criteria. The environment may look a little different for some, but they will have the same books, the same classroom size and the same crayons."
For most students, there even will be a few improvements. For the first time, each school will have at least one microcomputer and high schools will average about four computers each. Students in 12 high schools will have an extra period for an additional class and all eighth graders with parental permission will be required to enroll in a sex education course previously offered on an optional basis. Revised curriculums, which have been planned over the last few years, will continue to be phased in throughout the system and more children will be able to attend all-day kindergarten.
Elementary and junior high pupils may not notice any major differences in how their schools are run, but come next week their administrators and teachers will be operating under a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade policy approved by the school board this year. Under the guidelines, many of which already are standard practice, school officials say, students will receive homework assignments three to five times a week, any promotions of students who are not performing at their grade level must be justified by the principal to the area associate superintendent, and students who are below grade level in seventh- and eighth-grade English or math must take remedial classes.
Some of the bigger academic changes in store for high school students are in English and science courses. For the first time, all ninth graders will be required to enroll in a semester-long intensive writing workshop and all 10th graders must take a speech class. Most ninth and 10th graders also will take countywide uniform tests in math and English. These exams were mandated by the school board in 1980 and tested in selected schools for the past two years.
The big difference between the writing workshop and other English senior high classes is class size and in-class work. Instead of the usual 28-to-1 student-teacher ratio, the workshops will have one instructor for every 14 students. As a result, said senior high language arts specialist Richard Crowley, teachers will be able to focus on the writing process rather than on correcting the end product. Most writing will be completed during class. Beginning next year, the second half of this course, also a semester long, will be required in the 11th grade.
In the 11th and 12th grade, students will continue to choose from among six English courses, incuding an advanced placement class. Students must take four years of English to graduate.
In the secondary school science area, the most talked-about change is the influx of computers into the laboratory to perform functions previously done by hand or to simulate experiments considered too costly or dangerous for high school science courses. Science students in 12 high schools will have four computers at their disposal to simulate experiments, store data and graph results. Science departments in the remaining high schools should have their own computers by the end of 1984.
Microcomputers are big news also at the elementary and junior high levels. Beginning in November, eighth graders will be required to take a three-week computer programming and literacy course and elementary school students, as young as kindergarten-age, will learn how to perform basic functions on the computer. At the elementary level, school officials expect students to have an average of 4 1/2 hours of computer use a year.
"We don't want anyone to leave eighth grade who doesn't know something about computers . . . and [who is not] comfortable enough to use one," said Beverly Sangston, director of the school system's computer instruction.
A world away from chips and discs, teachers of English in elementary schools will continue to phase in a new curriculum that focuses immediately on comprehension rather than on the traditional emphasis on phonetics. Students learn punctuation, spelling, literal meaning and script skills, but these are subordinate to understanding the text, said Ted Schuder, coordinator of elementary reading and language arts. For example, said Schuder, if a character in a story has green eyebrows, the student in a traditional program would most likely be asked to remember that fact. But in the new Montgomery curriculum, this would not be a test question or even an important one. Instead, the student would be asked to discuss what the story meant.
Heavy emphasis also will be placed on using reading material such as novels, magazines and newspapers in addition to the classroom texts. One section of the fourth grade course also trains students how to read -- and enjoy -- textbooks. In the long run, added Schuder, "the biggest payoff is in getting kids to read those kinds of informational prose."
On the non-academic level also, students are in for a few changes. All in-car, on-the-road training in driver education courses will be taught after school and on weekends. Prices for admission to athletic events will drop from $3 to $2 a student. In the world of sports, there will be junior high softball teams and a junior varsity coeducational volleyball team. Junior varsity girls' field hockey has been dropped.