Members of the Frederick County Board of Education are grappling with one of the most difficult questions a public official can face: When is it time to close a treasured community school?

Sabillasville Elementary School is in the northern reaches of the county, far from the busy streets of the city of Frederick, and even farther from the bustling suburb of Urbana.

The tiny school sits behind an old wooden house on Md. 550, across the road from Scenic View Orchard. It is in many ways an idyllic setting, a throwback to an earlier time in our community.

But the numbers facing the school board as it discusses the future of this school are daunting. Built to house 160 students half a century ago, the student body today is down to 78, and the future is not bright.

Next fall, the school is expected to enroll 74 students. Superintendent Terry Alban said the enrollment numbers are projected to continue declining over the next five years and into the future.

How low is too low?

As Sabillasville dwindles to the size of a one-room schoolhouse, what kind of education can it offer its remaining students? Those are questions that school staff and ultimately the members of the board are going to have to come to grips with.

Board President Brad Young said at a recent meeting: “Where we’re at now, looking at potentially 70 or 80 students, it not only becomes expensive to operate, but it also becomes detrimental in many ways to the students and the families and the staff.”

Of course, many parents feel differently, believing that closing the school would be a terrible loss to the community. Parents Heather Sparkman, Kelsey Norris and Alisha Yocum told our reporter that Sabillasville is about more than enrollment numbers.

“I mean [the school] is the center to our community,” Yocum said. “We don’t have anything else. ... How can you not take that into consideration?”

We know that is true, and that is a point that school board members need to consider. But at some point keeping a school that is so small does mean diminished educational opportunity for the kids.

Already Sabillasville Elementary has just four classes in total — a split kindergarten and first grade, a split first and second grade, one large third grade, and a split fourth and fifth grade.

Students flow from teacher to teacher and classroom to classroom depending on the time of day and what grade they’re in. According to Barbara Doney and Michelle Mapes, who are both teachers there, staff tends to teach specific subjects instead of grades.

For example, Mapes teaches math at almost every grade, while Doney teaches writing and science.

If the projections for the fall of 2020 are correct, Alban warned that the school could go down to three teachers.

“It is going to be very, very difficult to ensure that those students are receiving the same access and opportunities to our curriculum that students in a school with more classes would have,” she said.

As we said, this is a very tough decision. Does the board essentially gut a community by closing the school, or does the system struggle to give children a quality education?

Are there other options, including redistricting with neighboring districts that are realistic? It is a long way from Sabillasville to the nearest neighboring schools, so transportation issues are a real concern, especially in the winter months, which can be bad in the mountains.

The county has a process to analyze the issue, and the board has begun going through the necessary steps. Parents need to be informed and stay involved.

Our hope is that the school can be kept open as long as viable. But we can’t have the children hurt by receiving an inferior education.

(14) comments

Moon otter

To the board: what you are saying to the teachers that teach more on an individual basis that they are inferior teachers. That is a slap in the face folks. To have small classes is a god send for any student. I agree if you close Sabillasville ES that is like putting a nail into a rural community and those students education. When I came to Sabillasville in January 1975, I was of middle school age. My parents moved to Sabillasville from Harwinton, CT a small rural area. The ES I attended was a small ES. Not as small as Sabillasville ES in enrollment but classes were small with fifteen in a class. Look at redistricting throughout the mountain region. I would hate to see it closed and students bussed to either Emmitsburg, Thurmont or Wolfsville. FNP how posting numbers of the other ESs and a map where the current district lines lay. Let's be a bit more informative in your article.

joelp77440

It really won't be as bad as you think. Way too much drama. Our school in WV closed when I was a kid. The kids really don't care.

Moon otter

Actually you be surprised in some areas it does hurt the identity of the area. In fact in South Mountain, Pa., the Waynesboro, Pa school district closed their school because they were building a new one in Quincy PA and in the process they closed two schools to consolidated them. You be surprised how folks off the mountain view mountain folks. I saw it when I was at Thurmont MS and at Catoctin HS. It was like mountain folk are dumb. I lived in Sabillasville during those educational years.

shiftless88

Great; all of Sabilisville residents should chip in more. Works for me!

Mnorris82

Come to the meeting Thursday. Then say the kids don’t care.

Greenstone

The fact that an increased budget is necessary to catch up on over spending on development projects and low salaries at the cost of lower class sizes and higher teacher pay is not this school’s fault, nor is closing this school going to get the board anywhere near it’s budget shortfall. I think all can agree that we need more for teachers, more teachers and smaller classes... maybe we shouldn’t have spent that possibility in the past and be trying to make it up by beating up on easiest target that won’t affect anyone’s re-election and is actually an example of some the goals this budget, rightly, attempts to close in on.

Mnorris82

Does the BOE see the future? Do they know what they military housing in this school district is going to do over the next few years? Does anyone? Students suffering educationally from small classes? What a joke! Small class sizes is any parents dream! It was my wife and I for our 3 children. That’s why we chose to buy a house in this community/school district. Our son is in the split first/second grade class and is currently “suffering” with strait A’s. And loves waking up daily to go to school. Sounds horrible to me. Our daughter is going into kindergarten next year. And can’t wait to go to school. She loves going to his school events anytime she can. Our youngest is several years out, but we hope he gets to see the same benefits of sabillasville elementary that our oldest son has and hopefully daughter will get to see.

Why not consider moving the districting line to the north side of 15 or something? That’s a big neighborhood across from catoctin high. Why not approve the parents that want to send their children to SES? Unreal if you ask me.

DickD

"............move the district line to the north side of 15........" How far would the children on the north side of 15 have to travel to school if the north side of 15 was included and how many children would it impact? Are you sure they want to go to your school? I ask because that seems like a reasonable answer to the problem.

Mnorris82

Not sure on exact numbers. But that’s not my job. And If your asking me if they want to come to my school? They aren’t asking my kids what school they want to go to! I’m just making logical suggestions based off families I know that kids go to thurmont and have 30 or so kids in a class.

Dwasserba

"But at some point keeping a school that is so small does mean diminished educational opportunity for the kids." Why? Homeschoolers manage to produce kids with high SAT scores and they're amateur educators.

stmarks

Agree! It is hard to argue that students are not getting a high quality education when SES is a five star-rated school and is ranked in the 92 percentile by the Maryland Department of Education. Don't the test scores speak for themselves?

StrengthofLiberty

From the Capital News Service: The Chestertown Spy

However, Sen. Arthur Ellis, D-Charles, said in Massachusetts, minority communities did not excel following the changes; a study released in September found black and Latino students trailed behind white students in reading, grade and income level.

“We have a lot of low income, minority, rural communities left out of the progress,” said Ellis.

Ellis said Kirwan’s recommendations of wrap-around services at community schools that provide mental health, nutrition and physical support in the school building would be a “tremendous solution.”

“A kid shows up and they’re hungry, they’re not going to learn,” said Ellis.

Hershkowitz said Kirwan’s planned investments into a community-school model would be prioritized for areas with high concentrations of poverty.

PS: From an environmental "climate emergency" standpoint - close the school and what? Bus? Fueled by what? To where? At the most central point of strategic building to address "climate anniliation" is to work with what you have. It appears the school is a model of modern architecture, and it has the marvelous goal of "small student teacher ratio" -

Kelpfarming

How about communities that pay the most in property taxes GET MORE. How about that unfair concept. You know the one we apply in our own lives when we make more money. Oh i see. Its justice to take away this safe haven school from these kids to shove them in to the less functionals but more diverse ones? What a joke.

Comment deleted.
Kelpfarming

But dont you want more diversity to fill in thoe home to make our area stronger? Im so hurt

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominem criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.