While the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on March 25 approved a holding site for Northwood High School to use during construction of its addition, parents say they want more input.
The resolution to select the former Charles W. Woodward High School as the holding site passed 7 to 1, with Board Member Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) contributing the one vote not in favor.
“We frequently hear that Northwood (is) one of the schools that we don’t hear a lot from — and so the fact that we did hear strong communications from community members and parents (who) felt (…) that maybe we were moving even too fast or what their concerns are, I take that very seriously,” Smondrowski said. “And so, I am going to hold off on supporting Woodward for those reasons.”
Woodward High School will be a brand-new high school when Northwood students, teachers and staff use it as a holding facility, according to previous memoranda from Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith to the school board. Woodward currently serves as a holding facility for Tilden Middle School. By the time construction begins for Northwood, Tilden Middle School will be in its permanent location, and Woodward will have been renovated.
Some parents said they believed that MCPS did not provide enough communication about a meeting that staff had with parents and students about the holding facility.
Four adults, who said they were either parents of Northwood cluster students or were advocating for students and parents who would be affected by the holding decision, made public comments during the March 25 meeting about the holding facility.
Michele Moller, a Northwood cluster coordinator to the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA), said that while she agrees with the board that Woodward is a suitable choice for the holding school, she also wants to make sure that the holding school contains spaces for the courses in Northwood’s special arts program.
“I appreciate the fact that it will be, you know, a new facility, but I want to make sure that, you know, the needs of our community are met and the needs of our academic facility are met,” said Moller, who has children who attend Northwood.
Moller said she is “guardedly optimistic,” because Northwood students will attend school in a new building. It will be in better condition than the current school — some parts of which she said are being “held together with spit and glue.” Many students at the school use public transportation to travel to and from school, as well as bus services near Woodward, she described as a “public transportation desert.”
MCPS staff, including Smith, have said that Northwood High School students will receive adequate transportation to Charles W. Woodward starting in 2023, including for after-school activities.
Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said that recommending the Woodward site followed analyses that considered several factors for potential holding sites, and that he, the superintendent and other staff recommended the Woodward site for approval.
The expanded Northwood will have space for 2,700 students.
The next step in the project was selecting an architect. On April 9, the board unanimously voted to approve a memorandum to enter into a $5.69-million contract agreement with architectural firm Samaha Associates, P.C., for design and construction phase study services for the Northwood project. The department of facilities management negotiated the amount of the fee. Funding for constructing the addition is included in the MCPS FY 2019-2025 Capital Improvements Program.
As for parents and the community, Moller said MCPS staff did meet with Northwood High community members prior to making a site recommendation to the school board; however, it was within days of the board’s decision on a holding school. Northwood cluster parents have said they would have liked to be part of the discussions about these decisions before the staff concluded which holding site they would recommend.
Judith Koenick, parent of an elementary school student in the cluster, said during the meeting she wondered why middle school parents were not informed about the meeting with staff, since their children will be attending the holding school.
Henriot St. Gerard, another Northwood Cluster coordinator, said during the March 25 meeting that he and other community members would have liked to have been given more notice prior to the meeting between MCPS staff and members of the school community about the recommended future holding site options.
“It was only a few weeks ago where I learned about the study being conducted by consultants to finalize options for the Northwood holding school,” St. Gerard wrote in his public comment. “Why wasn’t the community involved in helping create a charge for this study and to provide valuable input on what the consultants should look for when considering holding school options?”
St. Gerard also said his impression was that the board’s decision on a Northwood holding school was “pretty much made.” He requested that staff invite the Northwood cluster parents and students to give further input about their concerns, including issues such as transportation and space for special academic programs when students transition to attending school at the holding school.
Board Member Judy Docca (District 1) said Northwood was a holding school for about 20 years and was not maintained during that time, so she was glad that the holding facility will be a new building.
Student Board Member Ananya Tadakonda. was also one of the board members who supported the Woodward site.
“I will be supporting the Woodward option, because that is what students have expressed they feel is the best option for the Northwood community,” she said.