2021 | Schools

Boundary changes recommended for Bethesda-area elementary schools

About 225 students included in reassignments

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A map of proposed boundary changes for Bethesda-area elementary schools.

via MCPS

As the school district prepares for an addition project at Westbrook Elementary, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight this week released recommended boundary changes to move students from nearby Bethesda and Somerset elementary schools.

In total, about 225 students would be reassigned in the study.

About 125 students would move from Bethesda Elementary to Somerset Elementary, and about 100 students from Somerset Elementary to Westbrook, according to district officials.

Only pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade students would be reassigned in the next school year. Fifth-grade students would be added in the 2023-24 school year, according to the recommendation. This is to avoid moving fifth-grade students in their last year of elementary school.

The boundary study process began in 2019, when MCPS began exploring ways to ease crowding at Somerset.

MCPS planned to construct a classroom addition at nearby Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda and conduct a boundary study to move some students from Somerset to Westbrook.

Separately, the district also planned a $16.7 million addition at Bethesda Elementary in 2025 to offset crowding there.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, straining local and state budgets, then-Superintendent Jack Smith directed MCPS to forgo the Bethesda Elementary project, but maintain the $4.4 million addition at Westbrook. Smith also recommended restarting the boundary study to determine how to reassign students from Bethesda and Somerset to Westbrook.

Westbrook has space for about 222 students. The addition will make space for about 70 additional students.

The addition at Westbrook is expected to be completed by September 2023.

Somerset, on Warwick Place, is projected to have about 80 more students than its maximum capacity by 2026. Because it is on a 3.7-acre site, which is considered small, there is little room for the school district to place temporary classrooms to accommodate the crowding.

According to MCPS data, Bethesda Elementary has an enrollment of about 670 students and is built to hold 560.

McKnight wrote that her recommended changes would reduce the disparity among included schools in the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, which MCPS uses as an indicator of poverty. It also reduces the disparity in the number of students in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs.

At Westbrook, for example, the percentage of students in ESOL programs would increase from 3.6% to 19.5%, and decrease at Somerset from 28.2% to 18.6%.

The recommended changes would move Somerset and Westbrook enrollment into the “desired range of 80-100%” of their capacity.

Bethesda Elementary will not be within the desired enrollment range, McKnight wrote, but the crowding will be reduced “significantly” and there are plans for a building project in the future.

Bethesda Elementary’s enrollment is expected to be 603 students (108% utilization) in the 2027-28 school year, if the changes are implemented. It would be 743 students (144%) without the changes, according to McKnight’s recommendation.

No middle or high schools were included in the boundary study.

A map of the recommended boundary changes can be found here.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com