City Council wants Paint Branch Elementary to go K-8
School officials say expansion could lessen overcrowding elsewhere
In a sea of overcrowded schools, Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park is an island of unused space. The K-6 school is filled to just 78 percent of its capacity and city officials think it's time to put it to better use.
The city's mayor and council members said Nov. 4 they want the county to expand the school to a K-8 format. The addition of seventh- and eighth-graders, they said, could help ease overcrowding at nearby elementary and middle schools and give the city its first middle school.
The Prince George's County Board of Education is considering boundary changes to alleviate overcrowding at many schools in the county's northern portion. They expect to vote on a final boundary proposal in December.
City council members propose that the county reconfigure Paint Branch and other schools rather than make boundary changes. Boundary changes are a sensitive subject for parents, many of whom are comfortable with their current schools and don't want to switch.
"There are lots of moving parts here," said Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3). "There are plenty of opportunities to solve problems and create new ones."
Hollywood Elementary School the only other public school within city limits is filled to 133 percent of its capacity, making it one of the most crowded in the county. Nonetheless, parents have long resisted changes that could move their children to Paint Branch or elsewhere.
City children also attend Cherokee Lane Elementary School in Adelphi, Berwyn Heights Elementary and University Park Elementary. All three are at greater than 110 percent of capacity.
The city's middle schoolers attend Buck Lodge Middle in Adelphi, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle in Beltsville, Greenbelt Middle and Hyattsville Middle School.
If Paint Branch goes K-8, officials said, it would take pressure off the overcrowded Greenbelt and Hyattsville middle schools. It would also allow students the benefit of a city school until high school.
Paint Branch PTA members spoke in favor of the expansion at a public boundary meeting in October. Paint Branch Principal Jay Teston said the format provides greater continuity for students who would normally switch schools after fifth or sixth grade.
"There is strong research [in favor of K-8 format]," he said. "If it happens ... I am in full support of it."
Other local elementary schools could potentially switch from K-6 to K-5, allowing their sixth-graders to attend Paint Branch and lessen their own overcrowding. To ease overcrowding at Hollywood, the city suggested that the county build an addition onto the school.
Board of Education members have said such a project could take "years and years" to complete in current economic times.
"We don't have a magic wand," board member Heather Iliff (Dist. 2) said at a Sept. 28 meeting with the city's Education Advisory Committee. "And we certainly don't have a big pot of money."
There have been no cost estimates for an addition.
Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said that while an addition could be years away, there's no time like the present to begin lobbying for it.
"If you want this expansion of Hollywood Elementary to be in the works, we need to start working for it now," he said. "That's the only way that it's going to happen."