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New Rockland Woods school will be open to all students, says Washington County board

April 02, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Enrollment at Rockland Woods Elementary School will be open to all students despite one woman's claims that the decision could lessen the quality of education there.

The Washington County Board of Education decided Tuesday to extend to June 1 the deadline to apply for special permission to attend a county school. Special permission is needed to attend a school outside of a student's school district.

Open enrollment was considered for Rockland Woods after redistricting efforts failed to push the population of the new 750-seat elementary school past 500.

Mike Markoe, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said that when applications are received to attend Rockland Woods from students not in that attendance zone, preference will be given to those in overcrowded schools.

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Opposition

Metra Reid, who lives with her husband and two children in the Westfields housing development, said during Tuesday's public meeting that open enrollment at the school will be a disservice to her children. When her family moved to the development three years ago, she said they were promised that the school would offer a high quality of education.

"It's not fair to penalize those of us who live in the development by just sending in whoever," Reid said. "We had such high expectations for the school."

She said children from families in other parts of the county do not value education as much as families in her neighborhood.

"When you buy a home in a neighborhood, you want people like yourselves," Reid said. "It's not fair to just let anyone just ship in whoever. Think about it before you let everyone and anybody go to that school."

Reid said her daughter attends a private preschool in Hagerstown and will attend Rockland Woods in its second year. Her son would enroll in the school's third year, she said.

Reid said her daughter is able to count into the hundreds and is learning to write. She said students from other areas of Washington County would not be at the same level when they enter kindergarten.

"It's not fair to put her in the classroom with 20 other children who won't know their alphabet," she said.

Russell F. Williams II, a former member of and a candidate for the Board of Education, spoke out against Reid's comments, saying that every child is entitled to a quality education. He said that a family's income does not dictate that family's expectations for their children or how much they value education.

"Do not tell us that ... undesirable elements must go to some other school," Williams said.

In response to Reid's comments, Board President Roxanne R. Ober said in an interview after the meeting that all of Washington County's public schools strive to offer the best possible education for students.

"I think all of our schools have a diverse population, which factors into the success of our schools," she said.

Applications

Board Member Ruth Anne Callaham has said that open enrollment for the school was discussed to relieve overcrowding in other schools.

If Rockland Woods opened with only students in its attendance zone, it would have a population of about 470 students, Markoe said. The $25 million school will have capacity for 750 students when it opens in August. He said there will be about 23 students in each class, and 20 classroom teachers have been hired.

In order to keep class sizes low at Rockland Woods and other county schools, Markoe said some restrictions might be needed.

"We do feel like we need to be able to monitor and limit the number of students who would enter Rockland Woods," he said.

Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner said the board in the past has worked to limit how many students were granted special permission. Officials said Tuesday that it was unclear how long open enrollment would be in place at the school. Markoe said parents would have to reapply for permission each year.

Wagner said a cap needs to be placed on the total number of students admitted to the school, and perhaps even at each grade level.

"We worked really hard to decrease our special-permission students," Wagner said. "Here we have a situation where we are actually going out and recruiting kids to go to a school ... inviting them."

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