Wednesday, 13 March 2013 11:28

The school board voted unanimously to close Eastwood Elementary Magnet School last week. The school will consolidate with Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle in the fall. photo by Ben Boehl

Will consolidate with Norwood and Holabird

by Nicole Rodman

On March 5, the Baltimore County school board voted to close Eastwood Elementary Magnet School and consolidate Eastwood, Norwood Elementary School and Holabird Middle School into one school.
    Under the now-approved plan, presented to the school board last month by Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) superintendent Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Eastwood will close at the end of the current school year.
    Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, Eastwood, Norwood and Holabird will become one pre-kindergarten through grade eight STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) magnet school, likely called Holabird STEM Academy.
    One school on two campuses, pre-kindergarten through grade three students will be housed at Norwood while grades four through eight will attend Holabird.
    The closure of Eastwood also clears the way for Baltimore County to relocate the Precinct 12 police station to the soon-to-be-closed school.    
    Under a plan announced by county executive Kevin Kamenetz last December, the county will relocate the police station and place the North Point Government Center property up for sale to private developers.
    During the school board’s March 5 meeting, the board voted unanimously, with two members abstaining, to approve the closure of Eastwood.
    While they did approve the plan, the board did agree with public concerns that the process was handled poorly.
    Many community residents have denounced what they call a lack of transparency and public input into the process.
    As school board president Lawrence E. Schmidt  noted at last week’s meeting, “The roll-out was not done particularly well, but why should we shut out kids another year?”
    In their written resolution, posted to the school board website last Wednesday, the board approved the closure of Eastwood and consolidation of the schools.
    They also agreed with BCPS and the Baltimore County Department of Planning’s request to waive provisions in the Annotated Code of Maryland.
    As stated in section 4-115(d) of the Code, “the Baltimore County Board of Education must notify the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning of any schools it is considering for closure” by November 1 of the year before such action is to take place.”
    In that section, it also states that “these provisions may be waived by mutual agreement.”
    In a written rationale for their decision, the school board cited factors such as the under-enrollment of Holabird Middle in its decision.
    While the school has a capacity of 645 students, it is able to hold up to 1,028 students.
    Other factors considered included the opportunity for a wider range of area students to attend a magnet school and the fact that consolidating the three schools will save money for the school system.
    In a phone interview with The Eagle last Friday, BCPS superintendent Dance explained the origins and perceived benefits of the proposal.
    According to Dance, the consolidation plan began months before the county announced its plan to sell the North Point Government Center property.
    “We started our work before the county even said anything about their ideas,” he said.
    As Dance explained, the plan was initiated when he toured Eastwood Elementary last August.
    Noting that the school was “a great environment,” Dance recalled that he wanted to expand the STEM magnet program to  a wider range of students in the Dundalk area.
    Additionally, Dance explained, he had been asked by the school board to look at some of the county’s under-utilized schools.
    Dance saw the consolidation as a way to achieve both aims, he explained.
    As to why BCPS did not offer more details right away, Dance explained that he was waiting for public input to help form the proposal.
    “I really like to have communities draft proposals and plans with us,” he explained.
    In regard to why the plan was pushed through so quickly, Dance noted that he would like to complete the consolidation before the Common Core State Standards Initiative takes effect at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
    According to The Common Core State Standards website, “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.”
    Currently, each state adheres to its own set of educational standards.
    As Dance also noted, in 2014-2015 the MSA (Maryland State Assessment) test will be replaced with a new national assessment called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
    By consolidating the schools during the 2013-2014 school year, they will be ready to implement both the Common Core Standards and the PARCC assessment during the 2014-2015 year.
    Regarding the magnet program itself, Dance noted that the program will be open primarily to local students who are already zoned for the affected schools.
    However, he explained, if there is any room left, students from other parts of the county may apply for a special transfer to attend the magnet program.
    Since the announcement of the proposed plan at Holabird Middle last December, parent and community opposition to the proposal has been fierce.
    For many community members, they worry that the plan is all about money and does not take into account the best interest of the students.
    In a comment to The Eagle last Thursday, Michelle Schriefer, founder of the “Save the North Point Government Center” group on Facebook,  noted that she is “disgusted that the Board of Education decided to combine these schools.”
    “The students are going from a small environment ... to a number in the crowd of over 1,000 students,” she explained, adding, “These families are going into next year completely blind and have no idea what is to come of their children’s education.”
    Schriefer also decried the school system’s plan to place fourth-and-fifth-graders in with middle school students.
    She stated, “As a parent we do our best to shield our children from the world and to preserve their innocence....You are going from believing in Santa and watching cartoons, to hearing about all sorts of inappropriate things. How can we try to preserve their innocence when the school is forcing     them to grow up?”
    In reaction to parent anger on this point, in his interview with The Eagle last week, Dr. Dance noted that the younger and older students will be separated within the Holabird building.
    As he explained, the building will be split into a wing for fourth and fifth-graders and a wing for sixth through eighth-graders.
    Additionally, he explained, younger and older students will have different arrival and departure times to minimize interaction.
    For their part, some teachers at the affected schools are also reluctant to embrace the now-approved consolidation plan.
    In a Facebook posting to the “Save the North Point Government Center” group, one Holabird Middle School teacher commented, “Please don’t think that the staff at any of these three schools wanted this consolidation. None of us wanted this to happen.”
    As she explained, most of the teachers will have to spend (presumably unpaid) time in their classrooms preparing for the new changes.
    “Most of us will have to spend countless hours packing up our classrooms this summer .... We will have to adjust to new teaching assignments, which will result in many more hours of research, planning, and preparation.”
    As she concluded, regardless of the plan’s outcome, the teachers will do their best to make the transition as smooth as possible.
    “... I CAN tell you that we have an AMAZING group of staff and teachers at Holabird. We love teaching, and we care deeply about your children. Rest assured that we, the teachers, will make the best of this situation, and your babies are in good hands,” she wrote.
    For their part, however, BCPS leaders are excited about the opportunities offered by the consolidation.
    “The merging of the Norwood, Eastwood and Holabird schools will be giving our students  innovation, renewal, challenge, excitement, and a infinite passion for learning,” Norwood principal Patrice Goldys wrote to The Eagle last week, adding, “It is our wonderful children who will reap great benefits from this STEM school experience!  Our teachers are dedicated to making this incredible experience a success and we are all ready to move forward.”
    As for whether the new Holabird STEM Academy is a sign of things to come, Dr. Dance noted that it is “too early to say” whether or not similar programs will be implemented at other schools across the county.
    While he explained that the kindergarten through eighth grade model does offer for students the best transition from elementary to middle school, he could not say if the model will be implemented elsewhere in the county.
    As he wrote in a letter to The Eagle last Wednesday, Dr. Dance explained, “This is our new school and an outstanding new opportunity for Dundalk. Together, we will create one of the best schools in Baltimore County, the state, and the country.”