Parents hear plans to merge area schools
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 13:58

Low turnout characterized parent meetings at both Norwood Elementary School and Holabird Middle by Nicole Rodman

by Nicole Rodman

Principals at Eastwood and Norwood elementary schools and Holabird Middle School met with parents last night to discuss which of the two school restructuring plans would be recommended to the Baltimore County Board of Education.
    The same information was presented to parents at meetings held last Thursday night at each of the three schools.
    At both Norwood and Holabird, there was low parent turnout. Holabird principal Julie Dellone spoke to about 25 assembled parents and teachers while Norwood principal Patrice Goldys met with 35 attendees.
    At the Eastwood Elementary  meeting, led by principal Cheryl Brooks, there was higher turnout, with approximately 50 to 75 parents in attendance.
    Parents learned at the Jan. 17 meeting that school administrators planned to recommend the so-called “Option A” to the school board at its Jan. 22 meeting.
    Under both options, Eastwood Elementary Magnet School would close at the end of this school year.
    The school system plans to sell the Eastwood building to the county for use as the new Precinct 12 police station.
    At a meeting with parents at Holabird last month, deputy superintendent Kevin Hobbs presented two options to parents.
    Under “Option A,” Eastwood, Holabird and Norwood would merge, becoming one school housed in two buildings.
    The new school, likely called Holabird STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Academy, would consist of a lower school (pre-kindergarten through grade 3) at Norwood Elementary and an upper school (grades 4 through 8) at Holabird.
    The Holabird STEM Academy would become a community-based magnet program focusing on instructing students in science and math.
    This is the option that parents, school staff and administrators ultimately decided to present to the school board.
    The rejected plan, called “Option B,” would have merged Eastwood and Holabird into a new K-8 STEM magnet school.
    Norwood would have kept its own students, becoming a STEM focused school.
    Upon announcing the selection of Option A, principals at all three meetings addressed a few common parent questions.
    For many parents, one of the biggest concerns was the fact that, under Option A, their fourth- and fifth-grade students will be attending Holabird with middle school students.
    Addressing these concerns at last Thursday’s meeting, Holabird principal Dellone started by noting that her students “are all adolescents.”
    “We’ve all been there,” she added, urging parents of younger kids to remember that the middle school students are not that much older.
    As Dellone explained, renovations to the school building will also help keep younger and older students from interacting too much during the school day.
    Dellone also discussed behavior management at the school, assuring parents that Holabird has had success implementing the Positive Behavioral Intevention Strategies (PBIS) system at their school.
    Last year, the first year the PBIS system was implemented, there were 119  suspensions at the school. The number is indicative of the number of incidents,  not the number of students suspended.
    Eastwood also participates in the PBIS program, meaning that students coming from Eastwood to Holabird will already be familiar with the system.
    During the meeting, parents were also given a sheet listing the questions asked during the last parent meeting, along with the answers.
    On the answer sheet, school system officials assured parents that all staff from each of the three schools will be retained, unless they seek tranfer.
    Pre-kindergarten and special education clusters currently housed at Eastwood will continue at other schools around the area, officials indicated.
    Addressing parental concerns regarding Holabird’s academic achievement, school officials noted that Holabird met adequate yearly progress in all areas of the Maryland School Assessment (MSA).        
    Additionally, Holabird had a 94.5 percent attendance rate in 2012.   
    Referring to plans to turn Norwood and Holabird into one large STEM academy, in their answer sheet school officials assured parents that the basics will continue to be taught in addition to the new STEM curriculum.
    In order to prepare teachers for their new roles teaching in a STEM magnet school, the county will offer extensive training to current staff at both Holabird and Norwood.
    Parents who are not interested in sending their children to to the newly combined school will be able to request a tranfer in accordance with Board of Education policy.
    Other, more minor, issues addressed in the school system’s answer sheet included the status of air conditioning at Norwood and Holabird (both schools have it) and whether recess will continue for fourth- and fifth-graders at Holabird (it will).
    Unexpectedly, school officials also indicated that, in accordance with parent opinion, they are considering unforms for students at the new school.
    Not addressed by school officials yet is whether or not students from other parts of the county will be eligible to enroll at the magnet program at the new combined school.
    Of course, all plans for the proposed Holabird STEM Academy are contingent on approval by the Baltimore County Board of Education.
    Officials were to present the proposal to the board at its meeting on Jan. 22.
    A proposal for final approval will be presented to the board on Tuesday, March 5.
    The board will either approve or reject the proposal shortly after.
    While parent response to the plan was fairly heated at the last meeting in December, reaction was less angry at last Thursday’s meetings at Norwood and Holabird.
    According to Norwood assistant principal Mari Morris, there was little vocal opposition to the plan, though a few parents did express some concerns after the meeting.
    Dundalk United, which opposes the plan to restructure the schools, planned to have representatives at each of the three meetings last Thursday.
    At Eastwood, however, things got a bit heated as parents sought answers from school officials.
    “The reaction was frustration and anger,” Eastwood parent Laura Frasca told The Eagle.
    She added, “Parents felt this decision was being forced on us, but yet there still is not answers to all the questions. Eastwood didn’t want Option A, so we felt our voice was not heard.”
    As Frasca noted, some of the parents gathered at the school were angered both by the lack of time to ask questions and voice concerns as well as a perceived lack of transparency in the process.
    Frasca was quick to add that, while many parents oppose the way in which the plan was created, the final proposal does have many positive aspects.
    “I think many of us feel that this grand plan has many positive things but it is something that you don’t throw together in a few months; you do it over a year,” she explained.
    “What is the big rush to throw it all together now?” she asked. “What is more important than our children and their education?”
    For their part, teachers at the three schools appear to support the move.
    As Norwood assistant principal Morris explained after last Thursday’s meeting, there has been widespread support among the faculty at Norwood for the new plan.
    Though teachers can request a transfer, most are opting to stay.
    “Here at Norwood, my teachers want to stay,” Morris said.
    She added, “Both here and across the street,” referring to the desire of Holabird teachers to remain on as well.
    As for Norwood principal Patrice Goldys, she prefers to focus on the proposal as a way to expand educational opportunities for area children.    
    As she noted, “This pending recommendation is in the best interest of the children, and that’s what we are here to do.”