School board holds hearing on Eastwood closure
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 12:04

Vote on school alignment plan set for March 5

by Nicole Rodman

    During a public school board hearing at Dundalk High School last Tuesday, parents, teachers and community members got the chance to share their views on the recommended closing of Eastwood Elementary Magnet School.
    In December, Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) officials announced plans to close Eastwood and merge the school with Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools.
    Last month, BCPS formally recommended to the Baltimore County School Board that Eastwood close and merge with Norwood and Holabird.
    Under the proposed plan, the three schools would become one large STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) magnet school called Holabird STEM Academy.
    If approved by the school board, students in grades pre-kindergarten through three will be housed at Norwood while students in grades four through eight will attend Holabird Middle School.
    Approximately 25 people spoke at last week’s hearing, which lasted 90 minutes.
    While there were five speakers, mostly faculty at Norwood and Holabird, who favored the proposal, the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed the plan.
   

Among those speaking against the closure of Eastwood, the top argument was that younger children should not attend Holabird with middle school students.
    While most of the parents making this point had children at Eastwood, one Norwood parent, Amy Shenning, also argued against her fourth-grader going to school with older students.
    A few parents, including Shenning, cited behavioral problems and safety concerns at Holabird as reasons for their opposition.
    Many of those opposed to the closure also cited the lack of information and options given to parents as a reason for their dissent.
    “We have not been given an option,” speaker Ericka Sapp noted, adding, “I want an option; I want input.”
    The proposed relocation of the Precinct 12 police station to the Eastwood building was also cited by many as a cause for concern.
    Many parents and community members, however, focused on the positive aspects of Eastwood that they say would be lost if the school is closed.
    Many, including Eastwood parent Laura Frasca, cited Eastwood’s small size (191 students) as a reason for its success.
    “We are losing what makes us great,” she noted, explaining, “Bigger is not always better.”
    Others spoke of the close-knit nature of the school and its impact on students.
    “Eastwood Elementary is my village,” parent Kim Barnhouser explained, referencing the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child.”
    Barnhouser has children at both Eastwood and Holabird.
    Eastwood parent Nicole Swink, through tears, lamented the loss of Eastwood’s unique identity in the proposed merger plan.
    “The plan has no Eastwood in it,” she said.
    During her comments, Eastwood parent Michelle Dimarzio also questioned the speed at which the proposal is being pushed through.
    If approved, the plan calls for Eastwood to close at the end of the current school year.
    Some commenters used their time to question why Eastwood, or the Dundalk area, was being targeted for this proposal when there are other under-capacity schools across the county.
     Oak Road resident Russell Donnelly questioned the wisdom of removing another program from the Dundalk community.
    “We can’t afford to give up any more ... in Dundalk,” he explained.
    Eastwood parent and former BCPS teacher Rich Foot questioned whether the school system  had followed correct procedure for closing a school.
    According to Foot, according to the Maryland Code of Education, the Board of Education must notify the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning of the closing by Nov. 1.
    This procedure, Foot claimed, was not followed.
    Another speaker, Charles Pfeiffer, questioned how the board would evaluate the effectiveness of the new school should the plan be approved.
    While most opposed the proposal, some speakers did favor the plan.
    In her remarks, Holabird guidance counselor Marie Gagne-Stacy dispelled the notion that Holabird is unsafe or a bad school, discussing many of the school’s programs and achievements.
    Norwood teacher Dawn Peake called the plan an “incredible opportunity” for students, arguing that, by combining the schools, BCPS would be creating a “more powerful and better” school for students.
    Fellow Norwood teacher Darielle Sarnovsky agreed, noting that the plan calls for new technology to be added to the new Holabird STEM Academy.
    “This is the future for our kids,” she stated.
    For her part, Crystal Chamberlein, president of the Holabird Parent-Teacher Association, spoke of the plan as a way to extend the magnet program to all students.
    “Why not give the same opportunities to all kids?”, she asked.
    The Baltimore County School Board has under two weeks to mull over their decision. A final vote on the proposal to close Eastwood will be held at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. at the Greenwood Campus, 6901 North Charles Street in Towson.
    For more information on the Baltimore County School Board, visit www.bcps.org/board.