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Families, staff want Conococheague kept open

November 18, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

CONOCOCHEAGUE

karenh@herald-mail.com

From the turkey cutouts hanging on the walls to the book bags stacked under the windows, Conococheague Elementary School has the lived-in look of mid-semester.

If the Washington County Board of Education goes ahead with plans to consolidate the school with a new Maugansville Elementary School, PTA President Cheryl Brisson said she might look somewhere else to send her son.

"I would look into a private school if I had to," Brisson said Thursday. "I wouldn't send him to a school with 600 students (at) an elementary school. I just think that's too chaotic."

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Brisson and other people who have walked its halls say Conococheague deserves the chance to stay open. The Board of Education, which voted in 2003 to close the school, agreed at its meeting Tuesday to include in its Capital Improvement Program a feasibility study to examine the prospects of renovating and expanding the building to accommodate growth.

"I liked being at a small school because like, I got to know everybody, and I got to know all my teachers, and like, everybody was friends with everybody," 11-year-old Zac O'Neal said Thursday.

A sixth-grader at Clear Spring Middle School, Zac was an elementary student when the board voted to close Conococheague. He and his mother, Tina O'Neal, who was a PTA officer at the time, said Thursday they are glad the board might give the school a reprieve.

"Looking at the growth in this area, I don't know how they could, for it to make sense for them to close Conococheague," O'Neal said by phone Thursday.

The board voted to close the building, which is on a septic system and has no air conditioning or separate gymnasium, over parents' objections. According to a letter from the school, the decision to go ahead with the feasibility study does not guarantee Conococheague will remain open. Maugansville is slated to open in September 2007, according to the letter.

In his first year at Conococheague, Principal Richard Gehrman said he has noticed that families have strong bonds with the building, which was built in 1960.

"We have parents who went here, and now their children go here, so there's some history and a sense of connection here," Gehrman said Wednesday.

While generations of children have attended Conococheague, new families also are moving in, Gehrman said. This year, the school added a third fourth-grade teacher, and enrollment is hovering around 300 students, Gehrman said.

If enrollment continues to grow, Gehrman said the school likely will have to add portable classrooms. It currently has three.

After working at a "very large school," librarian Betty Snyder said she started looking for a position at a smaller school. She found Conococheague.

"It's a great little community school. It's a nice community. It's a very nice rural community with involved parents and just nice, friendly kids," Snyder said after school Thursday.

Lisa Commer, Citizens Advisory Council chairwoman, said while the building is not perfect - she said she would like air conditioning, and she believes the school's pipes must be replaced before the tap water is drinkable - Conococheague has proven a "wonderful environment" for students.

"When you walk through the halls, the kids are happy, the teachers are smiling," she said Wednesday.

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