Bethesda-Chevy Chase parents want new middle school, better curriculum
Chevy Chase, North Chevy Chase elementary schools want to keep sixth-graders
Many Montgomery County schools are encountering the problem faced by shoe-dwelling nursery rhyme character with far too many children, according to one school representativeand Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education members agree.
Overcrowding and the need for more space was a resounding theme in the testimony of representatives and parents from schools throughout the county who addressed the school board during two days of hearings last week. The board will vote Thursday on Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's recommended changes to the 2011-2016 budget for building projects.
Among those recommendations are plans for a new middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area to address overcrowding and streamline sixth grade, which is now offered at Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary schools as well as Westland Middle School. The board's decision will also include a plan for the sixth grades in those elementary schools, where budget cuts limit the sixth-grade curriculum, in the interim before a school is built.
"No childnot the most affluent, nor the one from an economically disadvantaged familyshould be denied core MCPS curricular offerings, or have to postpone an academic endeavor, simply because of the building in which their education is provided," Carole Edelstein, a member of the Chevy Chase Elementary School PTA, told board members.
A plan of action
Board members and parents at last week's hearing largely agreed that a new middle school is needed in the B-CC area, but were less certain how to handle the curriculum inequity for sixth-graders and overcrowding over the next seven to nine years, before a school is ready.
The board's action on sixth grade classes will likely follow one of three options drafted at a work session Nov. 4: a loose transfer policy that would allow parents to send their students to Westland for sixth grade, a complete shift of sixth grades to Westland, or a boundary study of the two Chevy Chase schools, Rosemary Hills Primary School and Bethesda Elementary School.
Weast last week amended his recommendation to the board regarding a boundary study for elementary schools, which he originally suggested take place a year before the completion of the school additions he recommended. Weast on Friday announced his recommendation that the boundary study take place spring 2011, to provide revised school assignments for that fall.
Craig Brown, on behalf of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster, asked the board to delay any decision that would send elementary school sixth-graders to Westland and instead determine ways to provide equal curriculum for sixth-graders in elementary schools until the new middle school is complete.
"Our middle school recommendation is to not make matters worse in the 2011-2012 school year: Fund the necessary teachers in the Chases and let's do our best to educate the sixth-graders in place," Brown said. "Our first priority is our children, and let's take care of them first and foremost."
Lessons from past experience
Weast told parents Nov. 10 that he sympathizes with their sense of urgency.
"We're trying to figure out how to do it and how to do it as quickly as we can," he said.
His words were countered by the grim experience of upcounty residents.
Parents came out in large numbers to push for completion of a new Gaithersburg High School, a project that has been talked about since the early 1990s, according to Laurie Augustino, a cluster coordinator.
The school system put money toward the project's design in 2009; construction could begin this summer, if the board approves an amendment to the 2011-2016 capital budget, said Augustino.
In the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster, plans for a gymnasium at North Chevy Elementary School have also waned.
The school's sixth grade class president, Jacob Rains, asked school board members about the gym, which was supposed to open when he was in third grade. It is scheduled to be completed in two years.
The school holds physical education classes in a multipurpose room, which serves also as a music room and cafeteria. North Chevy Chase is among the last county schools to receive a gym.
Jacob told a story about playing dodge ball in gym class when he was a fourth grader. He wound up in the emergency room after diving for a ball and smacking his head on a lunch table.
"Budget cuts really do hurt us," Jacob said. "And I have a permanent scar to prove it."