School redistricting is one of the most wrenching decisions that leaders can make.
Families are often so invested personally and emotionally in their local school — elementary, middle or high school — that they are unable to think about redistricting in any way other than the impact on their own children.
This is a completely understandable reaction, but the leadership of the Board of Education and the school system — board members and staff — must always be aware of other goals and other needs.
When considering redistricting, the system must consider a host of issues, starting with the capacity of the buildings. But it also needs to address racial and economic concerns, trying to draw lines so that no school is harmed by over-concentration of poor or minority students.
Our county must remain committed to equal educational opportunity for all students, and racial and economic integration promotes that. And school crowding hurts all students.
Frederick County is studying redistricting the Linganore-Oakdale-Urbana community to cope with the tremendous growth in the area.
Stretching from Urbana north to New Market, the region has seen enormous development as projects authorized by the last rabidly pro-growth Board of County Commissioners, before the board went out of existence in 2014.
County Executive Jan Gardner and the new County Council have been coping with the aftershocks of those commissioners’ decisions ever since, and now it is the turn of the school system.
In addition to the high schools in the study area — Linganore, Oakdale and Urbana — their feeder schools are also included. They are:
Elementary: Centerville, Deer Crossing, Green Valley, Kemptown, Liberty, New Market, Oakdale, Twin Ridge, Urbana, and the portion of the Spring Ridge attendance area east of the Monocacy River.
Middle: New Market, Oakdale, Urbana and Windsor Knolls middle schools, as well as the Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School attendance area east of the Monocacy River.
If you have not driven east on Md. 144 toward New Market or north on Md. 75 from Urbana recently, you might be shocked to learn how many students are now living in this area or will be living here over the next two or three years.
Seven of the 10 elementary schools are already crowded, some of them severely so. Centerville Elementary was built for 675 students but has 929 enrolled. Deer Crossing was built for 587 but has 789 enrolled.
Two new schools are opening in 2020, Sugarloaf in Urbana and an as-yet-unnamed school in the east county. When that happens, all of the schools will be at or below capacity, at least slightly, with more than 6,000 students enrolled.
One parent at a public meeting on the plans earlier this month complained that the school system was not looking forward enough. “We’re going to be going through this exact same process in five, seven years,” she told our reporter.
She is correct in that this plan looks ahead only to the 2020 school year. Of course, the growth will continue in this area, and school officials are already committed to expanding Oakdale Middle School by 300 students in 2022. So far, no new high school is planned.
But in the years to come, the school board will be back to the drawing board, responding to new growth patterns as they emerge. It is a step-by-step process.
One concern that arose at the meeting was the fate of children who might be redistricted out of the school where they have spent the entirety of their learning. The system needs to accommodate parents who want their 12th-grader or eighth-grader to finish in their home school.
Residents may submit feedback on the latest draft plans at the FCPS website until June 28. Then the Facilities Services Division and the consulting firm Cropper GIS will work over the summer to narrow down the options and present them to Superintendent Terry Alban. She will make a recommendation to the Board of Education in September, after which the board will hold hearings and then decide.
We can almost guarantee that not everyone will be happy. But these decisions must be made to rebalance the enrollment in our schools, to relieve crowding, and to ensure the continued success of our students.