The cafeteria has been turned into teaching space, leaving pupils to eat breakfast in the gymnasium and lunch at their desks. The ceiling leaks and dozens of refugee children are rotated in and out of an overcrowded room to learn English.
New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in East Silver Spring is a school in crisis. Housed in a cramped, 30-year-old red-brick building, it has been overwhelmed by a steady influx of refugees from Central America and Asia over the last few years as a growing tide of immigrants from troubled countries settle into the low-cost, aging rental housing in the southeastern part of Montgomery County.
At New Hampshire Estates, which teaches kindergarten through third grade, 91 percent of the pupils are minority-group children, the highest minority enrollment of any school in the county, according to Principal Barbara Frank. She noted that the building is badly in need of costly renovation.
The school has space for 225 children, but about 290 are enrolled this school year, further crowding its 10 already inadequate classrooms.
County school officials acknowledge the need for a facelift at New Hampshire Estates, at 8720 Carroll Ave., and they agree they must devise a plan to lower minority enrollment at the school. Accomplishing both tasks may be difficult, in light of other problems facing the school system, officials say.
"There are no easy answers," Frank said.
The public will have a chance to discuss the issue with the Board of Education next Wednesday when a proposal to pair New Hampshire Estates with nearby Oak View Elementary School will be aired.
Although school officials deny it, Hispanic community leaders wonder if New Hampshire Estates and other schools in the Blair school cluster (a group of schools in Takoma Park and East Silver Spring with an average minority enrollment of about 60 percent) have been the target of insidious neglect by indifferent school officials.
Emilio Perche Rivas, executive director of the Spanish-Speaking Community of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit group that provides services to Hispanic residents, said he toured New Hampshire Estates recently and came away so shocked by the conditions there that he immediately sent a letter to school board members asking for some action on the school's problems.
"I couldn't believe it," Rivas said. "The school's kitchen was smaller than the kitchen in my home. The school looked like it was in ruins. It doesn't look like a school that belongs in Montgomery County."
"When it rains, the roof leaks right over the Xerox machine and we have to move it into the middle of the room," Frank said.
"When I go to state meetings, other teachers find it hard to believe that a school like this exists in Montgomery County. It doesn't fit the image" of one of the nation's wealthiest counties, she added.
Board of Education Chairman Robert Shoenberg denied that the board has ignored the problems of the schools in the Blair cluster because its students come primarily from minority groups.
"The state has not provided us with enough construction money to begin with and none for renovation," he said. "There are also other schools in equally bad shape in other parts of the county," he said, citing as one example Bannockburn Elementary in Bethesda.
Shoenberg said the board's official policy is to review schools where minority enrollments are 20 percent above the countywide average of 28.7 percent. That review is under way, and board action is expected at a meeting Sept. 26.
The County Council this year alloted $8.7 million to renovate the Blair cluster schools, but school Superintendent Wilmer Cody's proposal for the renovations would cost about $3.8 million more. Shoenberg said it is uncertain whether the council would approve the additional amount.
The plan, now before the board, would add 20 classrooms at New Hampshire Estates, 13 classrooms at Oakview, and 21 classrooms at Rolling Terrace Elementary School.
It also would pair New Hampshire Estates with Oakview, which has a lower minority enrollment, and combine their students. Among other changes, each school would also have a literary arts magnet program to attract white students.
Frank said she fears that parents whose children attend Oak View would not want their school paired with New Hampshire Estates.
She also worries that the schoolboard will put off deciding on the plan to pair the two schools and thus delay the proposed renovation of her school, which is scheduled for next year.
Enrollment at New Hampshire Estates is expected to go up to 344 by 1989.
"If enrollment goes up," Frank said, "I don't know where I'll put" the students. "Every nook and cranny is being used."