Schools To Conduct Countywide Boundary Study

Schools To Conduct Countywide Boundary Study

Study proposed to address overcrowding, ‘heavily segregated’ schools

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Pressured by increasing enrollment and evolving demographics, the Montgomery County school board will hire an outside consultant to examine boundary changes for schools.

Several students spoke at a Tuesday meeting where a resolution calling for the study – believed to be the first comprehensive look at the makeup of the school district’s roughly 20 clusters — was passed.

Springbrook High School junior Michael Solomon and John F. Kennedy High School junior Nate Tinbite urged the school board to act swiftly to address schools “heavily segregated by socioeconomic class.”

“We as a county need to do more to help students of marginalized backgrounds reach their fullest potential,” Tinbite said. “While de jure segregation has ended, de facto segregation has been alive and well.”

The resolution for an outside review was introduced by student board member Ananya Tadikonda, who said a study to address overcrowding and increase diversity among schools was overdue.

This year, the school system used a new consulting firm to create enrollment projections across the district which differed significantly from past projections. The 2018-19 school year has been called a “transition year” to determine the accuracy of enrollment predictions.

Tadikonda’s resolution sets a spring 2020 deadline for the consultant’s report. She had originally lobbied for a June report, but received extensive feedback from the community and fellow school board members asking for an extended deadline.

“When we’re doing something this big, we want to make sure we do it right,” Tadikonda said. “I think it would be beneficial to wait for some other data we’re collecting that impacts enrollment projections … and we have 206 schools in our system, which is a lot for anybody to study, so I reconsidered.”

The consultant will not recommend specific boundary changes that would require students to shift to different schools, but recommend general areas of potential changes. The school board will not be required to take any action based on the consultant’s findings.

Montgomery County’s 163,000-student school system is among the most diverse in the state and the number of poorer students and those who speak a language other than English has been growing as the county’s demographics shift.

The county school system is made up of geographically defined attendance areas, known as clusters, that include elementary and middle schools that feed into specific high schools.

The lone vote opposing the boundary study came from District 2 board member Rebecca Smondrowski, who said she supported the concept but reiterated concerns about the timing and wanted to add language to clarify the scope of the study to include implications on special programs. Her motion to add clarifying language did not pass.

“The issue for me isn’t whether or not we should do a boundary study, I think we should. I think we’re rushing it,” Smondrowski said. “I’m concerned about there being confusion about what the overall purpose of this is.”

The school board will conduct community engagement opportunities through the summer and put the project out for bid sometime between May and June, according to Superintendent Jack Smith. The bid will be awarded in the fall and the consultant’s final report will be due back to the board no later than June 2020.

“I’m confident they’ll see stuff none of us have ever seen,” Smith said. “They have a dispassionate set of eyes with … no special interests, they’ll just be looking at demographics and opportunities.”

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

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