About 200 parents of Montgomery County children who have excelled in school arts or science programs said they would consider enrolling their children in Montgomery Blair High School if the school offered advanced, comprehensive instruction in these fields, according to a recent county-wide survey.
The survey, conducted among parents of academically successful junior high school students, is part of a broader report that will be submitted to Superintendent Edward A. Andrews next week on how magnet programs could be used to draw students to the high-minority school in lower Silver Spring. Magnet programs are already in use at high schools in Prince George's County and the District of Columbia.
Blair became the subject of intense debate last year when the County Board of Education rejected a boundary change recommended by Andrews that would have brought more white students into the school, which has a high enrollment of minority and foreign students. The local board's decision was later reversed by the state Board of Education and returned to the local board.
As a result, the local board, which at one time discussed closing Blair or razing its main classroom building, voted in July to look at magnets, in addition to boundary changes, as one way to improve the racial balance there. Blair, with 1,656 students, has a minority enrollment of 60 percent. The county-wide average is 25 percent.
Andrews is scheduled to make a recommendation about Blair to the board sometime in early December, when four new members take their seats. A final plan for Blair must be submitted to the state board by Jan. 31.
Andrews has not seen the results of the survey, which school officials warn is still tentative, but he is certain to consider it seriously in making his final proposal. The Blair community had become loudly critical of the board's handling of the school's boundaries and some parents sensed the board was insensitive to their concerns. Andrews, during a number of meetings, has said he would seek community input in making his recommendation and would submit only a plan that seemed to satisfy the community's desires for a strong, academic program.
The telephone survey, conducted by a task force set up to study the Blair program, involved 382 parents of seventh grade students throughout the county who had received A's in science and math classes or who had enrolled in the top science and math courses. An additional 368 parents of students who had received A's in art or music or had enrolled in a special summer arts program were interviewed. Parents interviewed were given a description of a possible magnet program -- including college-level courses such as organic chemistry -- and were then asked whether they thought such a program would be appropriate for their children and whether they would enroll them at Blair if it were initiated there.
A magnet in either program would need to draw 300 additional students to Blair to be successfully implemented, according to school officials. In addition to any magnet program, Blair would retain a full range of academic courses that students in the magnet program would be required to take.
Forty-nine percent of the parents of children in the math and science group said they thought a high-technology program that would include about six years of math and science credit and four years of computer science would be an appropriate magnet to place at Blair. About 47 percent of the parents in the arts group indicated a similar preference for a visual and performing arts magnet that would include specialized courses in dancing, communications, painting and theater. Twenty-five percent of the parents in the math group and 26 percent in the arts group said they thought they would send their children to Blair for these programs.
School officials said the parents' response reflected a sufficient base of support in the community to begin a magnet program at the school.
School officials stressed that the report was tentative and the costs of implementing either program were yet to be determined.