Montgomery County School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody recommended yesterday that the school board close one of two high schools and a junior high to correct sharply imbalanced enrollments among schools in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville and Potomac.
Cody, in a 49-page report released at a morning news conference, targeted Walter Johnson High in Bethesda and Charles W. Woodward High and Cabin John Jr. High in Rockville as candidates for closing sometime between 1987 and 1989. The announcement comes on the heels of a bitter three-year battle over the future of Northwood High School in Rockville, which closed in June. Some residents of the area affected by Cody's recommendations said the proposed closings could arouse similar protests.
The report, based on staff recommendations and comments from 68 groups and individuals, suggests more than two dozen sweeping changes affecting 31 schools that would require millions of dollars in new construction and dozens of portable classrooms to handle shifting school populations.
"In some of the troubling areas, we realize there are options and alternatives. I assume we'll hear preferences expressed very strongly," Cody said.
Among the major recommendations:
Reorganize Churchill High in 1989 or 1990 to include a ninth grade and close Cabin John Junior High, sending its students to Hoover Junior High in 1987.
Expand the attendance area to bolster enrollments at Richard Montgomery High, including students from a proposed elementary school near Fields Road in Shady Grove.
Add 14 classrooms at Rock Creek Forest Elementary or reopen Rollingwood Elementary (closed in 1982) and operate them jointly.
Reorganize Pyle Intermediate School in 1986 to include grades six through eight and draw sixth grade students from six elementary schools in the Walt Whitman High School cluster.
Minority enrollments would not exceed the board's guidelines at any school under the recommendations, except at Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring and Rock Creek Forest Elementary in Chevy Chase. No changes are proposed at either because they are involved in magnet programs to attract more white students, according to the report.
School activists from the Woodward and Walter Johnson communities, which tend to be middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, expressed dismay yesterday that Cody would name both schools as candidates for closure, even though only one would be shut to ease skewed enrollments in the area.
"They're going to hear a great deal," said Daniel F. Case, immediate past president of the Woodward PTA. "Both communities take great pride in their schools."
"They're area residents going to die, that's how they're going to take it. It's going to be one of those decisions that absolutely splits the community wide open," said Del. Mary Boergers (D-Rockville), whose district includes much of the area affected by Cody's recommendations.
The superintendent's report addresses enrollment problems in a 45-school district, known as Area II, covering Rockville, part of Wheaton, Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Although the area's 27,000-student population is expected to decline by 100 this fall, enrollments will vary widely among schools.
With 900 students last year, Walter Johnson High, for example, was enrolled at 62.2 pecent of capacity while Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School was enrolled at 101 percent.
Woodward, with 1,000 students, is at about 94 percent of capacity. Under board policy, school capacity should range between 70 and 90 percent.
The school board adopted a 15-year plan for educational facilities in 1981 that recommended closing 28 county schools because of declining enrollments. None of the schools recommended by Cody for closure yesterday was included in that initial group.
Cody said he recommended closing either Woodward in 1988 or Walter Johnson in 1989 because both alternatives are "reasonable solutions."
In each case, students from one school would be transferred to the other.
Under one option, however, the 28-acre Walter Johnson school site, valued at $13.6 million, would be sold for development, while the other suggests converting Woodward to a junior high school, according to the report.
The additions to Woodward -- including 36 new classrooms and a second gymnasium -- needed to accommodate students coming from Walter Johnson would cost $25 million while a 16-classroom addition required to consolidate Woodward students at Walter Johnson would cost $4.9 million, according to the report.
"It would just be fiscally irresponsible to consolidate at Woodward," said Roberta Hochberg, chairman of the Walter Johnson PTA's facilities committee.
Changing enrollment patterns prompted the board to order a review of Area II school facilities last year, which led to Cody's report yesterday.
A range of factors, from aging communities to shifting growth patterns, caused the imbalance, school officials said.
The public has until Sept. 27 to respond to the report. The school board will hold public hearings Nov. 12 and 13 and will make a final decision at a special meeting Nov. 19, according to Cody.