MONTGOMERY BLAIR High School in Silver
Spring offers a great opportunity to show what a strong school system can do in a diverse and changing community. Instead, the Montgomery County School Board is now talking about closing the school.
To close Montgomery Blair would be perversely wrong. The trouble with Blair, as the school board sees it, is its high enrollment of children of ethnic minorities. Out of its 1,760 students, 35 percent are black, 13 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian. It appears that some of the white parents in other neighborhoods do not wish to send their children to Blair. The proposal before the board would distribute those children to two nearby high schools where the minority enrollments would be lower--very slightly. That would resolve nothing. All the present complaints and grievances would merely have been moved around a little, to return to the school board with interest in a year or two.
Montgomery is a county with enormous resources and a strong tradition of devotion to public education. Can't Montgomery County, of all places, do a little better than that?
The board is also going to consider an alternative suggestion to establish a program in the performing arts at Blair. That's the seed of a better idea, although the arts aren't quite the right answer. That kind of thing won't work unless the training is at a genuinely professional level, leading to jobs. It's expensive, and this area already has one enterprise of that sort at the Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown. But the magnet school concept, which Montgomery has used many times, is the right one.
For Silver Spring, the magnet program ought to be academic. One promising model is Prince George's County's new Eleanor Roosevelt High School, in Greenbelt, where a conventional high school shares the building with a highly accelerated and rigorous program in science and technology. Roosevelt has been so successful that Prince George's is opening a similar program next fall at the other end of the country in Oxon Hill High. Why not something similar for Blair?
But it need not necessarily be in the field of science. Why not use the students' diversity as an asset, rather than treating it as a liability? Some 500 of Blair's youngsters speak a native language other than English. The base already exists for an outstanding magnet program in foreign languages and cultures. Among the elementary schools feeding Blair, one already offers an immersion course in French and others are teaching Spanish.
In American secondary education, the inadequate emphasis on foreign languages is an important failing. Few young Americans speak any language but English; the Asian languages, except among children born abroad, are unknown. The country suffers heavily from this ignorance. Montgomery Blair is a place where an enlightened school board could start a revolution.