A Montgomery County Council member wrote to the leader of the county’s school system Thursday, concerned about the future of Woodward High School in North Bethesda.
Council member Andrew Friedson, who represents Bethesda, pressed MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith in the letter on “unexplained changes in philosophy” not relayed to the council as school system leaders explore the idea of including a performing arts magnet program at the facility.
Woodward, on Old Georgetown Road, currently is a temporary home for Tilden Middle School and will later hold Northwood High School students while their school undergoes extensive renovations. When Northwood students move back to their permanent school, Woodward is expected to reopen as a new high school.
The County Council has allocated $120 million to the Woodward renovation project, but was unaware of Montgomery County Public Schools’ vision of an arts magnet program, Friedson said.
“In addition to the significant delay for Woodward alleviating overcrowding at [Walter Johnson] … this latest revelation appears to be yet another backtracking of commitments made to the community,” Friedson wrote. “… This process raises broader concerns about communication, sufficient public input, and questionable planning.”
In a statement, MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said plans for Woodward are preliminary and “no decisions have been made yet with respect to the academic programming or site amenities.”
“We are still very early in this process, and community feedback has been and will continue to be essential in the design of the new school,” Zuckerman said. “We look forward to engaging the community further in the next several months to develop a strong preliminary plan to bring to the Board of Education for the re-opening of Woodward High School.”
At a school board meeting this week, MCPS staff said Woodward, when reopened, could be the first high school without an athletic stadium, which also concerned Friedson.
If MCPS includes a traditional athletic stadium at Woodward, along with baseball and softball fields, the school would lose all of its available parking spaces and be forced to build a parking garage, estimated to cost $50 million, according to the school system’s staff.
Friedson said students would suffer without a stadium.
“While I respect the inclination to look at creative school models, there is no acceptable scenario in which Woodward does not have all the facilities and programming of a typical high school,” Friedson wrote. “The absence of adequate athletic facilities, for instance, threatens to fall dramatically short of the expectations set for the community and the Council through this prolonged public process.”
Walter Johnson High School cluster officials argue that the MCPS staff is prioritizing the arts program over alleviating overcrowding. The Woodward reopening project was initially proposed to help ease crowding at Walter Johnson, which is slated to be more than 700 students over capacity by 2024.
The MCPS staff is expected to present more solidified plans to the school board in October.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com
The headline on this story was updated at 10:35 a.m. Aug. 5 to clarify Council member Andrew Friedson’s message.