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Hard for Boonsboro not to feel ignored

March 11, 2006|By Caren Cramer

To the editor:



I am a part of what has been identified as a "disenfranchised Boonsboro CAC group." I write today to offer some additional rationale for the concept of regional Washington County Board of Education representation. With every fiber of my being, let me first say that these efforts were not to politicize the educational system of this county. Quite the contrary!

Our efforts ultimately seek the very equitable treatment this current board claims it practices with all of its decisions - putting the needs of all the students first. However, their actions tend to speak louder than any words. In a recent letter, Karen Reilly of Knoxville appropriately pointed to one of the obvious correlations between the location of high school "academies" and the home addresses of the current board members. Let me point to another, maybe a less obvious one.

Last year, WCPS facilities staff undertook a 32-point facilities assessment of all the schools in our county - a look at both the physical facilities and how functional the facilities are. Each category was rated with values ranging from 1 (worst) to 5 (best), yielding an overall score. Of the seven county high schools, Boonsboro yielded the lowest score of all - 85. In the area of physical facilities, acoustics throughout the school were rated a 1. Additionally, the "functional" value of the assembly and physical education areas were rated a 1.

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When this assessment became public, this "disenfranchised group" tried to work with board members and WCPS staff to address this aging structure and its less than stellar score. One just has to delve into the details of WCPS's Capital Improvement Plans for FY 2007 to FY 2012 to see that physical and functional improvements or renovations to Boonsboro High School are not planned for any time in the next six years, at least. Two years ago, at a candidate forum hosted at Boonsboro, an elected board member (seeking and ultimately winning re-election) said, "If this were my kids' school, I'd be advocating for changes." We've tried just that - enduring such comments along the way as "there are other schools worse off in the county." It saddens me that this is the mentality exhibited toward our school, and frankly others in similar shape - the pitting of one against the other.

Through our efforts to seek avenues to think outside the box about reconfiguring Boonsboro's "open school" design, David Lever, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction for the Maryland Department of Education was invited and came to Boonsboro. This 1970s open school design calls into question much of the functionality of space, unlike schools of traditional design. He spoke frankly about such school designs and the complex and complicated issues of renovating such space. You can't just put up walls to divide up space without the corresponding heating and air conditioning requirements for the new space. He did outline ways that the county could seek funds for projects specifically available for such inefficient and completely nonfunctional space.

In the end, it appears that extensive renovations at Boonsboro High School are highly unlikely, due to the cost. A recent Herald-Mail letter to the editor calls attention to the "shower curtain" solution currently in use at county schools including Boonsboro Middle School - another open-space design school. I hope stakeholders throughout the county agree that this is just plain unacceptable.

Equally frustrating is the concept that an open school can withstand the same enrollment growth as schools of traditional design.

These open-design schools, like many others throughout the county, are quickly approaching capacity and functionality of space is reaching diminishing returns. It's a credit to the faculty and administration of Boonsboro that its students "consistently led the county in test scores on both standardized tests and college-level Advanced Placement exams," as reported by Kristen Brennan, a student at Boonsboro High in her Nov. 13 Herald-Mail letter to the editor. Discussions are now under way to investigate expanding magnet programs and academies to Boonsboro, but a logical question is: Where will they fit into a school bursting at the seams?

Our proposal to redesign how the board representatives are elected is not a personal attack on any past, present or future board member. However, it's hard to see how inequitable the current board's priorities have been and not take that personally, as it directly impacts the environment to which we send our children to learn day after day.

To politicize this and other issues relevant to our children's education would be inappropriate. To call out creatively thinking, thought-provoking people for political venture is equally inappropriate. As elected officials, listening to your constituents is part of your job. Taking a stand on an issue you agree with is a requirement of being an elected official and in America a right of most citizens. But categorizing the involvement of compassionate, passionate and fair-minded parents as the result of "being left out" is insulting to parents who wish to advocate for their children's future.

Caren Cramer

Rohrersville

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