October 22, 2013
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is recommending that grade configurations at New Hampshire Estates and Oak View elementary schools remain as they currently are—with New Hampshire Estates serving students in prekindergarten through grade 2, and Oak View serving grades 3 through 5.
Dr. Starr is also recommending an attendance zone for a new elementary school in Clarksburg, which opens next school year and will relieve overcrowding at Little Bennett and Cedar Grove elementary schools.
“I am making these recommendations after considerable community involvement and careful analysis of the educational and operational impact,” Dr. Starr said. “We are committed to a thorough, transparent process for all of our boundary and facility recommendations.”
The recommendations were released on Oct. 15 and will be considered as part of Dr. Starr’s full Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Dr. Starr will submit his CIP recommendation to the Board of Education on Oct. 28. The Board will hold a work session on Dr. Starr’s recommendations on Nov. 7, hold public hearings on Nov. 11 and Nov. 14, and take action on Nov. 18. After that, the Board’s CIP request will be submitted to the County Executive and County Council for consideration.
New Hampshire Estates and Oak View Elementary Schools
Since 1986, New Hampshire Estates and Oak View elementary schools have been “paired,” meaning students attend PreK-grade 2 at one school (New Hampshire Estates) and grades 3 through 5 at the other school (Oak View). The Board of Education paired the schools nearly 30 years ago to help address racial imbalance in the Montgomery Blair cluster.
Members of the Oak View Elementary School community recently have been advocating that the district consider unpairing Oak View and New Hampshire Estates, creating two PreK-Grade 5 schools. In November 2012, the Montgomery County Board of Education authorized a Roundtable Discussion Group to explore this possibility. The roundtable met from March to May and included representatives from the New Hampshire Estates and Oak View elementary schools’ PTAs, the PTA cluster coordinators for the Montgomery Blair cluster, and a member of the community group seeking to have the schools unpaired.
The group issued a final report for Dr. Starr and staff to consider in June.
Those in favor of unpairing the schools cited several reasons for their stance, including that it would maximize the number and safety of walkers and respect community boundaries; ensure continuity of education by eliminating the Grade 3 transition to another school; and increase parental involvement by reducing geographic and logistical barriers.
Concerns were raised by some members of the discussion group that unpairing the schools would increase racial and socioeconomic disparity between the two schools and would lead to more crowding at Oak View, which is already above its stated capacity.
Dr. Starr is recommending that the schools remain paired for two main reasons—the demographic impact and the creation of additional space needs. If the school were unpaired, the percentage of students receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARMS) at New Hampshire Estates would increase from 90 percent to 93 percent and would decrease at Oak View from 70 percent to 68 percent. As FARMS is an indicator of poverty, this would create a greater socioeconomic disparity between the schools.
Since maximum class sizes for early elementary grades—PreK through grade 2—are smaller than later elementary grades, unpairing the schools would impact capacity, especially at Oak View. Currently, Oak View serves grades 3–5 students. By adding PreK-2, with its smaller class sizes, the capacity for the school would decrease from 358 seats to 284 seats. This would lead to a seat deficit of more than 140 seats in 2014–2015. That deficit would grow to more than 160 seats in future years. This would create the need for a 12-classroom addition at Oak View, at a cost of approximately $9.4 million.
Given the number of classroom addition projects that are needed in MCPS, “creating the need for an additional capital project in a time of tight fiscal climate with limited funds is not a prudent strategy for the school system,” Dr. Starr wrote in his recommendation.
Dr. Starr said he would work with staff to address concerns raised by parents who would like to have the schools unpaired, including strategies to improve parental engagement at both schools.
“I certainly understand the concerns of those who would like to unpair these schools, but these types of changes must be made for sound educational reasons, not solely based on community preference,” Dr. Starr said. “The pairing of New Hampshire Estates and Oak View is effectively meeting the needs of our students and, at this time, I do not see a need to change.”
Boundaries for new elementary school in Clarksburg
In August 2014, MCPS will open its 203rd school—a new elementary school to serve the Clarksburg cluster. The new elementary school, located at 12420 Blue Sky Dr. in Clarksburg, will address dramatic enrollment growth in the Clarksburg cluster and will help alleviate space deficits at Cedar Grove and Little Bennett elementary schools.
In accordance with Board of Education policy, a Boundary Advisory Committee was created to review options for the new school’s attendance zone. The committee met from March to May and included six representatives from Cedar Grove Elementary School, five representatives from Little Bennett Elementary School, and two PTA cluster coordinators from the Clarksburg cluster. The group evaluated ten options and provided a report to Dr. Starr and MCPS staff in June.
Enrollment in Clarksburg cluster elementary schools has been growing rapidly and both Little Bennett and Cedar Grove are currently well over capacity. Dr. Starr’s recommendation will fully relieve space deficits at Little Bennett and will significantly reduce space deficits at Cedar Grove, although the school will still be over capacity.
The new Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School will accommodate most of the projected enrollment growth in the area around the school, however, another elementary school will be needed in the future to address continued enrollment across the cluster.
“This new elementary school will provide much-needed classroom space in the Clarksburg cluster and will give relief to two of our most crowded schools,” Dr. Starr said. “But as the Clarksburg community continues to grow, we are going to have to build additional elementary schools for the students that are here now and those that are coming in the future.”