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Redistricting plan aimed at improving students' education

June 11, 2007

Editor's note: Once a month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written jointly by School Board member Bernadette Wagner and Leslie LeBlanc, chair of the Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee.

Washington County is building three elementary schools in the next two years to accommodate increased enrollment and replace aging schools.

Two of them - Pangborn and Maugansville - will replace existing schools, while the third school, Rockland Woods, will be a new school built off Md. 65 in the Westfields development.

All of the elementary schools in and near the City of Hagerstown are overcrowded, with some exceeding the state-rated capacity by more than 100 students. Currently, as a stopgap measure, Washington County Public Schools uses 80 portable classrooms at 23 schools to address the need for more instructional space.

As a long-term solution, the new Pangborn and Maugansville elementary schools will be larger than the existing ones. These larger schools will adequately meet the needs of the Pangborn and Maugansville communities, as well as help alleviate overcrowding at other nearby schools.

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Likewise, the new Rockland Woods Elementary School will serve the children of the Westfields development, as well as some students who currently attend other overcrowded schools within a 10-mile radius.

The Board of Education realizes that redistricting students to other schools can be difficult for those who are affected and, for that reason, appointed interested parents and concerned citizens to study the issues and provide guidance to the board. These community leaders comprise the Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee (FEAC), and represent each of the seven school feeder patterns in the county - Boonsboro, Clear Spring, Hancock, North High, Smithsburg, South High and Williamsport.

FEAC received a charge from the board last January to recommend new boundaries for the three new elementary schools. Among other things, the recommendations from FEAC will be designed to ease overcrowding at schools near the new schools, reduce the number of portable classrooms throughout the county, limit the length of time students spend on buses and, if possible, balance the socioeconomic mix at all schools.

FEAC is scheduled to make its recommendations to the Board of Education in July, well in advance of the scheduled openings for the new schools in the fall of 2008. Accordingly, FEAC has been meeting with concerned citizens about the newly proposed boundaries, and soliciting their advice and input.

Citizens who have not been able to attend the FEAC meetings but would like to share their views may do so by posting their comments on the Washington County Public Schools Web site at www.wcboe.k12.md.us, or by sending letters to P.O. Box 730, Hagerstown, MD 21740. Additionally, interested citizens may call 301-766-2862 to voice their opinions. The members of FEAC will review all comments and, if possible, incorporate those views into their final recommendations to the board.

All of the FEAC meeting times have been posted and are open to the public. Interested persons can see the current draft recommendations online, or request a copy from the Washington County Public Schools Public Information Office by phone, mail or e-mail. FEAC has been committed to making the redistricting process transparent and open.

After the FEAC recommendations are presented to the Board of Education, board members will hold their own series of public hearings in the fall of 2007. Following those hearings, the board will make its final decision about the boundaries for the new schools.

The plans for the new schools are beautiful and can be viewed on the Washington County Public Schools Web page. All interested citizens are encouraged to attend the public meetings and share their opinions.

When working together and guided by the vision of meeting the needs of the students of Washington County, all things are possible - even redistricting.

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