By Ana Mulero
Special to The Sentinel
ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education approved boundary changes on Nov. 26 to address concerns with projected overcrowding at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools, with high school and middle school reassignments beginning in September 2020.
The school restructuring plan passed with a vote of 7-1, impacting certain students at three high schools of Clarksburg, Northwest and Seneca Valley and five middle schools.
Student communities will be reassigned from either Clarksburg High School or Northwest High School to Seneca Valley High School, which is currently undergoing a $150 million expansion project.
Additional reassignments will take place at Neelsville Middle School, Rocky Hill Middle School, Roberto W. Clemente Middle School, Kingsville Middle School and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. The shuffling reassigns students from Neelsville Middle School to Rocky Hill Middle School and vice versa. It shifts students from Roberto W. Clemente Middle School to Kingsview Middle School and from the latter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, as well.
“We’re just growing at an unbelievable rate (of enrollment) and have for more than ten years,” Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith said. “And it’s just a fact that we’re going to have to continue to build additions, build schools, renovate schools and then populate those schools. And that will inherently involve having students either change schools or go to a different school than where that neighborhood went three years ago and two years ago and one year ago.”
School restructuring comes as a result of projected overutilization at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools, stemming from the results of a boundary study that the board had approved last November to explore high school reassignments.
The study projected that, by the end of the six-year planning period, student enrollment would exceed capacity by 900 students at Clarksburg and by 400 students at Northwest. It also looked at the elementary schools in the three clusters to address their student enrollment patterns and utilization rates.
“We also look at diversity,” Smith said. “And we know that, generally, it is better if we can bring down the level of poverty in a school so that it isn’t as high. And part of what is happening in this boundary study, and the decision made tonight, is that it brings those levels of poverty closer together in some schools.”
Vice President Patricia O’Neil noted that “adopting a boundary change is the hardest vote that board members make because people are very passionate about where they choose to live. For the most part, people are respectful.” They write polite emails, testify, but there are outliers, too.
Following work sessions and a public hearing the board conducted last month, the adopted six-page memorandum was favored over the 14 options that the boundary study maps out.
Yet the school restructuring logistics have been met with heavy criticism from many in the affected cluster communities. The pushback carried into the heckling that ensued before the board moved to vote after staff reportedly received “ad hominem” attacks and a complaint was filed.
“Most people have been pretty respectful,” O’Neil said before the vote during the Nov. 26 hearing. “But I have to say that, over the last couple of days, I’ve been deeply troubled by the tone of the emails that have come to the board and a complaint that has been filed with the ethics panel,” O’Neil said, adding that “these are ad hominem attacks on an MCPS staffer.”
Protesters outside of the hearing held signs that called for putting “Kids Before Politics” and “Kids Before Numbers” and argued against subjecting students to high schools’ poor conditions.
Dissenting member Rebecca Smondrowski said she “struggled with some of the logistics” too, but was grateful for the amount of work that went into the action and the efforts of the superintendent of schools to “do what he thinks is right for our entire county and communities.”
The action is underpinned by a community engagement plan aimed at easing the 2020-2023 implementation of the boundary changes. This details how staff intends to engage with all three clusters.
Staff will be encouraged to engage in study circles and planning welcoming activities and maintaining a welcoming school environment to “move forward together in a culturally responsible way,” said Division of Student, Family and School Services Director Everett Davis.