Classroom overcrowding is an issue I constantly hear concerns about from families across my district, so I decided to facilitate a town hall with our school leaders and give folks the chance to get their questions answered. I was honored to be joined by Dr. George Roberts, our Baltimore County Public Schools regional superintendent, as well as Board of Education members Julie Henn, Moalie Jose and Lily Rowe, for a wonderful and robust discussion.
I am a lifelong student and teacher. I believe that raising our kids to be brilliant leaders, thinkers, creators and innovators is the most important legacy we can leave, and we lay the foundation for that legacy every day in the classroom. I know how hard it can be to manage a classroom, making sure each and every student is supported. This only gets harder as classes get larger. That’s why it’s so exciting to see new school construction prioritized in our area.
So, what did we learn in our discussion?
Construction of our new northeast elementary school is on track (09:59)
According to Dr. Roberts, the new northeast elementary school is on track to open for the 2022-2023 school year, with about a third of the construction completed. Mr. Kevin Jennings, a veteran principal most recently at Joppa View Elementary, will head up the new school, and is involved in everything from recruiting staff to ordering furniture.
Traffic calming measures and new bus routes are to be determined (14:10)
BCPS has shared a schematic of the new northeast elementary school campus, with a map of traffic flow for buses, staff parking and parent pickup and drop-off. Some traffic calming measures, such as lights and crossings on Rossville Boulevard and Gum Spring Road, may be required, but have yet to be fully fleshed out. Dr. Roberts stated that designing the bus routes, a big factor in traffic flow, will have to wait until the new school boundaries are set.
For a full look at the design plans for the new facility, click here to check out an October 13, 2020 meeting of the BCPS Building & Contracts committee, including a presentation from 56:25 to 1:10:15 on the new northeast elementary school.
New boundaries will be confirmed in February 2022, with parent input (24:35)
The Board of Education will vote to confirm new elementary school boundaries in February 2022, but the process of determining those boundaries is well underway. Anyone can watch the boundary committee meetings live or taped, and the committee has hosted and will host public comment hearings. The committee will present a set of recommendations for review from BCPS leadership and approval by the Board of Education.
Dr. Roberts explained that the committee is made up of a principal, a teacher and two parents from each of the participating schools (Elmwood, Fullerton, Joppa View, McCormick, Perry Hall, Shady Spring, Vincent Farm and Red House Run). The principals, he noted, are participants but not voting members. Just a few days ago, the committee released two recommendations, and parents are invited to complete a brief survey to indicate their preference. Click here to take the survey (and yes, a Nepalese option is available). The survey closes November 17.
Community members will take part in choosing a name (29:20)
Dr. Roberts explained that, following the district’s Board Policy 7520, families and community members will be invited to participate in a series of surveys to propose names and settle on a pair of top contenders. An additional survey will allow folks to vote on those top two, and the Board will vote to confirm the recommended name.
A new middle school is on the way, with a groundbreaking likely in 2022 (32:36)
This project represents the most immediate impact in our area of the Built to Learn Act passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, which earmarked $2.2 billion for spending on school construction projects. Dr. Roberts shared that the design for the building is in t.he final stages of completion, and will be put out to bid soon. It will be a multi-year process before the facility is ready to open. Very exciting!
Update November 9: The design for the new middle school is complete and was presented to the BCPS Building & Contracts Committee on Monday, November 8. Click here to view the design presentation, and click here to watch the meeting.
We are preparing for about 1,000 new seats at the elementary level (34:25)
The new northeast elementary school will seat about 700 elementary schoolers, and an addition at Red House Run Elementary School will up its capacity from 460 to 775. This is a significant step in addressing the regional concerns of overcrowding. Of the schools participating in the boundary study, seven were overcapacity as of September 2019, and four (Elmwood, Fullerton, Red House Run and Shady Spring) exceeded 115 percent capacity.
Dr. Roberts said that the new northeast middle school will seat about 1,400 students in the area. An addition at Pine Grove Middle School will bring another 200 seats, helping to accommodate the boost in future years from the added elementary school capacity.
A new high school is a little further off (37:40)
Invariably, a discussion of new elementary schools and new middle schools leads to the question of new high schools. Efforts are underway to study the need for a new high school in the area, as well as the options for an available site, but there are few details beyond that to share at this stage.
All that said and done, I want to thank Dr. Roberts and his staff at BCPS for their preparedness and thoroughness in answering our questions. My thanks as well to our Board of Education members who joined us. There is a long history underscoring this conversation, and it was a privilege to be joined by the real subject matter experts for a substantive discussion with some exciting short-term updates and engaging long-term questions.
Being an educator or school leader is never an easy job, and it certainly didn’t get any easier for BCPS in the last year or two. We are lucky to have sharp, compassionate and dedicated public servants like these crafting our children’s future success. To any students and parents reading this, thank you for your patience and grace in bearing with the challenges we have faced. I hope this discussion proves a valuable resource, shedding light on some concerns which will impact schooling in our area for many years. And lastly, to any educators reading this, know that you are heroes, and you have our best wishes and blessings with you each and every day in the classroom. Thank you.