The county school board is exploring using the former Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville for the first countywide secondary-level arts magnet program and has turned to the former chief executive of the Strathmore arts center to lead a committee studying options.
Woodward, on Old Georgetown Road, is the current home for Tilden Middle School students while their building is being remodeled and expanded.
Known as a holding school, Woodward is next scheduled to house students from Northwood High School in Silver Spring, which is slated for a $123 million expansion to begin in 2023, and students will be moved off-site during construction.
Some families have voiced concern about using Woodward, saying the drive is too far, especially for Northwood students who ride school buses.
Woodward will undergo some renovation at a cost that was not disclosed, and Superintendent Jack Smith said this week the school is being considered for an arts magnet program.
What the program would include and its capacity has yet to be determined, but a school system spokesperson said it would not be a whole-school magnet.
“As we think about new schools and new locations one of the areas we think about is arts programming,” Smith said. “How do we expand and grow that so it’s geographically close to all students and available?”
The school system has a middle school arts magnet program at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, but there is no equivalent at the high school level.
Smith said the school system will convene an “exploratory committee” to determine what the program at Woodward might look like and how it would be best implemented.
The committee will be chaired by Eliot Pfanstiehl, former chief executive officer of the Strathmore performing arts theater in North Bethesda.
Pfanstiehl retired last year after leading the Strathmore for more than three decades and said when he retired he hoped to pursue something “with a deeper meaning.”
“If talent is distributed equally among our population, I think we can all agree opportunity is not. So the ability to take into arts education in particular, talented, promising, creative but not yet fully formed students is critical,” Pfanstiehl said. “We need to find a way to make access to arts education broader.”
The school board on Monday is expected to finalize Woodward as Northwood students’ location during construction at their home school. Northwood students would relocate to Woodward for the 2023-2024 school year and return to Northwood in September 2025.
A proposed resolution says Woodward will provide “an appropriate educational space for accommodating the comprehensive high school program needs” of Northwood students and school staff will “work to ensure” transportation and after school activities are provided.
The schools are about 7 miles apart.
The school board explored five properties, including some vacant commercial space, as options for a holding school, but “none offers significant benefits over” Woodward, the resolution says.
Commercial space was deemed to costly for a temporary school and others needed too much renovation work, were not located in ideal areas or were too small.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org