It's still eight months before Clarksburg High School opens its doors to students, but already there is much drama surrounding the debut of Montgomery County's newest campus.
Lori Martin said she and other families want their kids to go to the newly renovated, state-of-the-art, 175,000-plus-square-foot Clarksburg.
At the same time other parents like Tammy Hertel, whose children are slated to go to Clarksburg, are hoping to keep their children out of the new school and on their current campuses.
How the dispute will end remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Change is never easy, especially when it involves Clarksburg. And when change involves school boundaries, potential college scholarships and the academic futures of thousands of children, it can get downright ugly.
"It's a new school. It's a new venture," said Sonya Leaman, whose two children are slated to enroll at Clarksburg next year. "It's uncharted territory."
Clarksburg High School is being built at the site of the old Rocky Hill Middle School as part of a plan to alleviate crowding at schools in the northern portion of the county where Damascus, Watkins Mill and Seneca Valley high schools are over capacity. Damascus alone houses about 300 more students than it was built for. And with the Clarksburg Master Plan calling for up to 15,000 new homes in the area, the need for a new high school -- not to mention other campuses -- was clear.
School officials say they understand the anxiety that parents and students are experiencing. They are urging patience.
In the last month, they note, the school received a new name -- Clarksburg (chosen from among four possibilities), a new mascot (the Coyotes) and new school colors (powder blue, white and navy). In a few weeks, Principal James Koutsos said they will begin a series of meetings with parents and students to give all a chance to discuss the new campus, which will open for grades 9 to 11 in the fall. The aim is to have many of the academic issues sorted out by February when registration begins.
"We want to try to put people's minds at ease," he said. "We will have a very challenging and rigorous program for all students."
Still, he acknowledges that it will be tricky to create a community for students who will enter Clarksburg as juniors and will have invested two years at other campuses.
That's part of the dilemma Sonya Leaman faces. While her daughter, who will be a freshman next fall, is thrilled at the prospect of attending a new school, her son, who is slated to be a junior at Damascus, is still on the fence about the prospect of leaving his old school.
Leaman is trying to remain optimistic.
"I think it's going to be fun and exciting," she said. "I do wonder how you meld three schools with different traditions into one school. Everyone will come with their ideal of what high school is like. And trying to make that into one thing at Clarksburg is going to be difficult."
Other parents say they are anxious because there are still too many unanswered questions.
What courses will be offered? How many sports teams will the school have? Will the new school have a signature program -- something unique to its campus -- like the ones at Watkins Mill and Seneca Valley? Will it attract enough students to field a competitive baseball team?
Tammy Hertel worries that moving her son Lee from Damascus to Clarksburg in his junior year might affect his chances of receiving an athletic scholarship. In fact, Lee, 15, who plays football and baseball, testified before the school board hoping to persuade members to allow more students to remain at their current campuses.
The Board of Education, which approved boundary changes for the schools in November, is allowing some students to remain at their current campuses if they are enrolled in special programs. Others may apply for transfers.
At first, Andy Civetti, 15, a sophomore at Seneca Valley, was less than enthusiastic when he heard about the new high school. But after being asked to serve on the school naming committee, he changed his mind.
"The school will have so many opportunities for us," he said recently. "Being 11th-graders, we'd be able to set up all the things for the classes to come. Everything that was in place would be there because we started it."
At one point the board was trying to decide what grades should attend the school.
Andy was so enthusiastic about the prospect of being a student at Clarksburg that he spearheaded a student effort to persuade the board to open the school to juniors as well as freshmen and sophomores, managing to collect more than 300 signatures.
But then came the news. Under the boundaries approved by the board last month, Andy wouldn't be going to Clarksburg after all. So now he's keeping his fingers crossed that he can secure a transfer.
Martin, too, is hoping she can secure a spot for her elementary-age children to eventually attend Clarksburg. She is among those who live in a cluster of neighborhoods east of Interstate 270 that hoped to go to Clarksburg. But under the newly approved boundaries, they will remain at Seneca Valley. They are taking their dispute over the boundary decision to the Maryland State Board of Education. Their neighborhood, where about 200 affected students live, is closer to Clarksburg than it is to Seneca Valley. Parents believe that Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and the board erred in drawing the boundaries. Weast noted that maintaining economic diversity among students was part of the reason for his boundary decisions. Parents see it differently.
"It's about common sense and location of the schools," Martin said. The current boundaries "really don't make any sense."