Monday, June 27, 2011

"Our county cannot afford this mistake." [Testimony at tonight's Board of Ed meeting]

My name is Jill Gallagher and I live in Rock Creek Hills. I am concerned about the construction of a new middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, and the apparent lowering of Montgomery County School standards in order to fit the school on this site.

Last year, I took part in the Roundtable Discussion Group to find solutions to the overcrowding in some BCC cluster schools, including the consideration of moving 6th grade out of North Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase elementaries. In PTA surveys at these schools and Rosemary Hills, the overwhelming majority of parents supported keeping the 6th grade at the elementary schools with similar academic offerings to those at Westland. More than 200 parents wrote comments in the Rosemary Hills survey alone, with many saying they felt threatened into making the decision to move 6th grade to achieve academic equality.

I am concerned that the parity with Westland that so many parents clearly seek will not be possible if the new middle school is constructed on a site half the size of Westland.

Many of the site’s shortcomings are coming to light in the feasibility meetings. It was announced during the first meeting that the Ed Specs for county middle schools are merely recommendations, that the exterior spaces are negotiable, that there is a possibility of off- site athletic amenities, and that PE spaces may not meet athletic program requirements.

We were told that the new school may not offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that Westland has. Since the new school also feeds into BCC, an IB high school, how will this affect the students who attend the non-IB middle school?

In addition, we learned that the school might have a smaller capacity because of the site size. All of these scenarios will cause the curriculum to be different, which is in direct opposition to one of the primary reasons given for building the new middle school: providing the 6th graders at the Chases with the same education as the students at Westland.

The county is going to spend at the very least $40 million to build an inequitable school. Our county cannot afford this mistake, which is completely unnecessary because larger sites are available.

The site selection process that recommended this site was admittedly flawed, and actions are underway to investigate and presumably improve the process. MCPS has said it will look at ways to “improve community outreach prior to decision-making.” In July, the County Council will hold a joint meeting to discuss school site selections. The Chair of the Planning Board wants to meet with the BOE to discuss park-school co-locations that serve “multiple public needs, provided the available acreage is sufficient.”

All of this advocacy and calls for change are welcome, but also overdue. Rock Creek Hills should not be the poster child for change. The change needs to start here, right now. Please pause the process now and find a better site. Thank you.

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