Montgomery County Public Schools officials Tuesday night said housing Tilden Middle School students and the Rock Terrace School’s special education students in one new school will be beneficial for the special education students and provide both groups with the opportunity to learn in a state-of-the-art building.
Last month, interim MCPS Superintendent Larry Bowers recommended collocating the two schools at a new facility to be constructed at the current location of a holding school at 6300 Tilden Lane, Rockville.
At a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, Debbie Szyfer, a senior facilities planner with MCPS’s Office of Long-Range Planning, said the new facility would probably not open until at least 2020, a year later than originally planned, because the Maryland General Assembly failed to provide sufficient school construction funds in the next fiscal year state budget.
Tilden Middle School is currently located in the former Woodward High School facility at 11211 Old Georgetown Road, North Bethesda, while Rock Terrace is in a 65-year-old building at 390 Martins Lane, Rockville.
Community concerns that MCPS officials are trying to address as part of developing a plan for collocating the two schools.
One of the community concerns addressed by officials Tuesday revolved around middle school students sharing a building with much older students from Rock Terrace. Students who attend Rock Terrace range from age 12 to 21 and many have autism, according to Gwen Mason, MCPS director of special education services. The school focuses its educational programs on school-to-work programs.
Mason said those students ranging in age from 18 to 21 years spend about 66 percent of their time in the community developing work and social skills. She also said school system officials are working with Walter Johnson High School, which is located nearby the proposed new school site, to develop programs to allow high school-aged students at Rock Terrace to associate with other high school students.
Szyfer pointed out that while the two schools would share a building, there would still be degrees of separation. The building would have two separate entrances, two principals and different teaching staffs. The gym and cafeteria would act as a divider between the two student populations, she said.
“The building would be very, very separated,” Szyfer said. “There’s very little interaction and the interaction that would occur would be on a controlled basis.”
Bowers, in his recommendation last month, wrote that collocating the schools would provide Rock Terrace students with the opportunity to participate in social activities with Walter Johnson and Tilden students, as well as in assemblies or special programs like Best Buddies, in which student volunteers are paired with intellectually disabled individuals to create friendships.
If the plan is approved, this will be the third special education school collocated with another school. Currently Longview School is collocated with Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown and plans are being worked on to collocate Sandburg Learning Center with Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville.
The board is scheduled to take action May 12 on the recommendation and a public hearing is scheduled for April 27. If the board approves the collocation, a feasibility study would be conducted this spring and summer.