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Panel says consolidations wouldn't hurt quality of education

January 11, 2001

Panel says consolidations wouldn't hurt quality of education



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Creating larger school enrollments by consolidating some Washington County elementary schools would not affect the quality of education children receive, according to a committee formed to study school consolidation.

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The Facilities Review Committee, made up of Washington County Commissioners John Schnebly and William Wivell, Washington County Board of Education administrators Dennis McGee and William McKinley and School Board members J. Herbert Hardin and Mary Wilfong, are working on a report that considers closing and consolidating a list of elementary schools.

The committee met Thursday morning at the Board of Education's central office.

The report states that Salem Avenue and Winter Street, Maugansville and Conococheague, Cascade and Smithsburg and Funkstown, Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock elementary schools could be consolidated to save the county about $2 million a year.

Winter Street, Maugansville, Conococheague, Cascade and Funkstown elementaries would close.

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Talk of the possible consolidations have sparked concern from parents. In Cascade, a group "Save Our Community School" has formed to fight any plans to close Cascade Elementary.

Pam Newhouse, chairwoman of the Washington County Citizens Advisory Council, said she would fight to prevent the splitting up of Funkstown Elementary students. The report states a section of Funkstown students would be sent to Emma K. Doub, while others would be sent to Fountain Rock.

"I will fight you tooth and nail to stop the split up of the town of Funkstown's kids," she told the committee.

The facilities committee favors creating four-round classes at each grade level and keeping the enrollment of consolidated schools at about 500 students.

Four-round means a school would hold four classes of each grade level. Using those numbers, the student-teacher ratio would be about 20:8.

Class size would remain low enough that students would receive the same benefits, including individualized learning environments, as in their current small schools, the committee has said.

Wilfong said elementary schools with more than 500 students can take away from one-on-one interaction between student and teachers. She said she would prefer enrollments to be kept under 500.

"A child responds to someone knowing him and being known," Wilfong said. "It seems to be what makes the children grow the fastest."

She said schools that size would ensure that specialized teachers - those who teach subjects including art and music - along with guidance counselors, are staffed at the school full time. Currently, specialized teachers and counselors visit a school a few days a week, depending on how small the school is.

Wilfong said she knows that closing community schools is an emotional issue for parents, but that it would more beneficial to students and the county in the future.

"If we can serve the children better by consolidation, then I want to do that," she said. "I know it's a highly emotional thing, but it affects me and my family too. I'm willing to give that up for the best of the group."

The next Facilities Review Committee meeting will be held Jan. 18 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the School Board's central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

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