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Hearing set on plan to ease overcrowding at Pangborn Elementary School

April 21, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • A science lab at Pangborn Elementary School was converted in to Jeremy Trammelle's 3rd grade classroom due to overcrowding at the Hagerstown school.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

A girl is warming up on her violin as her instrumental music class gets in gear at Pangborn Elementary School in Hagerstown’s East End.

The class is sitting on the stage in the cafeteria/auditorium. Lunch isn’t going on, but during the short time that class is in session during lunch, the stage curtains are closed to limit distractions for the music students, Principal Eric Meredith said.

The instrumental music class is on the stage because the instrumental music classroom is home to a kindergarten class, Meredith explained.

The shifting of these classes is only part of the picture. Other areas of the school are being used for student learning rather than the uses for which they were intended as a result of student enrollment growth over the last few years that peaked in April at 816 students, Meredith said.

The school, which opened in 2008, already is overcrowded.

Pangborn’s official enrollment in fall 2012 was 810, up from 753 students in the fall of 2011, according to enrollment reports.

The state-rated capacity for the school is 745 students. The local-rated capacity for the school — the county school system’s preferred capacity — is 671 students, according to a facilities fact sheet.

Growth, and a projected enrollment of 842 students for the coming school year, led the Washington County Board of Education to ask its volunteer Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee to study ways to alleviate overcrowding at Pangborn and make a recommendation for the next school year.

The school board will hold a public hearing on a redistricting recommendation Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the board auditorium at the Commonwealth Avenue administrative complex.

The proposal would affect attendance boundaries for Pangborn and Paramount elementary schools, and could move 50 to 60 students from Pangborn to Paramount.

The proposed redistricting would shift Cortland Villas’ residences, Cortland Manor’s 138 homes, and 11 of Cortland Apartments’ 36 apartment buildings from Pangborn to Paramount school districts. The Little Elliott Drive addresses for the potentially affected apartment buildings are 12915, 12916, 12920, 12923, 12927, 12931, 12935, 12939, 12940, 12943 and 12944.

Planning Supervisor Chad Criswell, the school system’s staff liaison for the redistricting committee, said the proposed redistricting includes all 62 residences, although only 44 are complete and four were under construction, according to city of Hagerstown information.

The villas and townhomes only include a few elementary students in Pangborn’s current district who already have been enrolled at Paramount, Criswell has said.

The committee also is recommending that Pangborn’s current fourth-graders, who live at the potentially affected addresses, be given the choice to attend fifth grade at Pangborn.


Unanticipated growth

When the new Pangborn Elementary School opened in 2008, it was designed to have five classrooms for each grade from kindergarten through fifth grade, school facilities officials said.

Five classes per grade are the most offered by any traditional county elementary school of kindergarten through fifth-grade, school facility officials said. Rockland Woods Elementary School also is a five-round school.

Elementary schools bigger than that can be more difficult to manage, said Rob Rollins, director of facilities planning and development.

Pangborn was part of a broad redistricting that took effect over two years, with Pangborn’s boundaries changing in the second year, for the 2011-12 school year.

The redistricting was done, in part, to create a new school attendance zone for Eastern Elementary School and the new Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School, which would share an attendance zone, but house different grades. The school board also wanted the redistricting to bring as many enrollments as possible close to schools’ local-rated capacities, Rollins said.

During that redistricting, the Cortland development off Leitersburg Pike was shifted from the Paramount Elementary School attendance zone to the Pangborn Elementary School attendance zone, school system officials said.

When redistricting options were reviewed, shifting the development from the Paramount attendance zone to Pangborn’s was expected to affect 49 students, according to Rollins and school board minutes for the redistricting votes.

It was estimated that other Pangborn boundary changes would move 195 students from Pangborn to Eastern/Monroe and 101 Potomac Heights students to Pangborn, resulting in a net change of about 45 fewer students in the Pangborn attendance zone, according to school board minutes.

But by the time the redistricting took place, the Cortland development already had experienced growth, including in the number of elementary school-aged children, Rollins said.

The number of children attending public schools from that development basically doubled, he said.

When school system officials did the redistricting, they didn’t anticipate such an increase from the development, he said.

Pangborn’s attendance zone is a dense one, with several multifamily housing developments, Rollins said.


Projecting enrollment

When school system officials and the system’s enrollment projection consultant go over enrollment projections, they review birthrate trends, plans for housing developments, building permits, the rate of construction, how fast homes are being occupied and cohort survivorship — the number of students from each grade expected to leave or return to a school based on historical trends, Criswell said.

Criswell said there hadn’t been a lot of development in Pangborn’s district recently, but there has been a lot of turnover in residents.

In neighborhoods with single-family homes, there’s some turnover from year to year, but usually it’s easier to get an idea of the number of students who will come out of those neighborhoods and what grades they will be in, Rollins said.

However, it’s been difficult to predict the number of students coming from Cortland Apartments, and what grades they would be in, because of the turnover rate in the apartments, Rollins said.

Rollins theorized that with recent economic conditions, many people who in years past would have lived in single-family homes instead have been living in apartments.

According to a Feb. 26 report for the redistricting committee, the number of students from Cortland’s apartments in 2012 fluctuated between .35 elementary students per apartment to .42 elementary students per apartment. That translated into approximately 180 elementary students, or seven times as many as the number that would have been anticipated in 2006, according to the report.

Pangborn also has experienced a lot of students entering and leaving its school during the school year, school system officials said during at least one redistricting committee meeting.

Based on prior enrollment data, school system officials expect that only 50 percent to 60 percent of this year’s 154 kindergartners through fourth-graders who live in the Cortland development and attend Pangborn were expected to return to Pangborn next school year, according to the Feb. 26 report.

Cortland Apartments isn’t the only multifamily development that has experienced a lot of turnover, Criswell said.

When one family leaves an apartment and another moves in, there’s no guarantee the new family will have the same number of children in the same grades as the children who left, or even have children, making enrollment predictions tougher, school system officials said.

In addition to the growth and turnover from Cortland Apartments, the number of births in the county increased from 1,661 in 2003 to 1,985 in 2007, according to birth data that Criswell got from the Maryland Department of Planning. The youngsters born during that peak birth year in 2007 turned 5 in 2012 and entered kindergarten.

While countywide kindergarten enrollment can be projected based on the number of births, school system officials don’t know which schools those children will attend until they are registered for kindergarten. Prekindergarten enrollments can give them some idea.

The number of kindergartners attending Pangborn increased from 112 in September 2010 to 167 in September 2012, according to enrollment reports. The number of first-graders at the school increased from 128 in September 2011 to 144 in September 2012.

Meredith said the school added a seventh kindergarten class and a seventh first-grade class at the start of this school year.

The school also has six classes each for second and third grades, Meredith said.

One of the third-grade classes is using a classroom that was intended for use as a science lab. The room is not small, but has heavy-duty tables rather than individual student desks.

One of the first-grade classes is using a smaller classroom, which previously had been used for special education offices and work with small groups of students, Meredith said.

Various areas of the school that were to be used for other purposes, including storage areas and faculty spaces, now are used to help individual students or small groups of students who need extra help with skills such as reading or math, Meredith explained during a tour.

Partition walls were set up in a large open area on the second floor to provide more space for student intervention assistance, Meredith said.


Serving the students

Cortland Apartments resident Melisa Roman said both of her sons received extra, one-on-one reading help this school year and now are reading at grade level.

Roman was concerned about whether her sons would receive such assistance at Paramount Elementary School, which isn’t a Title 1 school as is Pangborn Elementary School.

“I think that if they didn’t have that program, they’d both still be struggling with reading,” Roman said.

Pangborn became a Title 1 school this year, according to the school system’s website. As a new Title 1 school, the federal funds are used to provide services to children identified as having the greatest need for educational support.

During the April 2 board meeting, board member Melissa Williams asked whether Paramount would be able to provide comparable services to what the students at Pangborn receive.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said school system officials tend to say they will provide the same services, but it can be difficult because schools don’t have the same resources. He said, however, he was convinced the teachers and administrators at Paramount would make sure those children receive additional services.

Wilcox said there might be a chance to use some Title 1 federal funds to provide tutoring at the Cortland development.

Williams asked at the April 2 board meeting how unusual it was to redistrict 11 out of 36 buildings.

Criswell told her it was similar to having an attendance zone boundary going down the middle of a street.

Cortland Apartments resident Christina Dean said the way the proposal only redistricts 11 of the 36 apartment buildings is “messed up,” but regardless of that, she doesn’t want her son, first-grader Jacob Hale, to change schools.

“He likes it. He knows all the teachers there. He’s got pretty good grades,” Dean said.

He also knows classmates at Pangborn who live nearby in Cortland Apartments, but who would continue to attend Pangborn next year while Jacob could be switched to Paramount, she said.

Dean said she was looking forward to her daughter, Breanna, starting kindergarten at Pangborn because her son’s kindergarten teacher was so nice.

Williams also asked whether moving 55 or 60 students would be enough because the move still would leave the school at about 106 percent of its state-rated capacity.

The redistricting committee will meet to come up with recommendations for a broader redistricting, and there’s a chance the Pangborn attendance zone could be affected by that, school system officials said.

The broader redistricting effort is due to the planned August 2016 opening for a new West City elementary school.


Paramount enrollment

The proposed redistricting would increase enrollment at Paramount from its official fall 2012 enrollment of 337 students to an estimated 410 students this August.

Paramount’s state-rated capacity is 409 students and its local-rated capacity is 368 students, according to a facilities fact sheet.

“We think (Paramount) can handle the students we’re putting in it without a problem,” Rollins said.

Rollins and Criswell noted that Paramount has two portable classrooms that are not calculated into the student capacity there.

Those portable classrooms helped Paramount support a peak enrollment of 594 students in 2007, according to the March 22 redistricting recommendation report and facilities officials.

School system officials will keep an eye on enrollment at Paramount, Rollins said.

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If you go ...

What: The Washington County Board of Education holds a public hearing on a redistricting recommendation to ease overcrowding at Pangborn Elementary School
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Where: School board auditorium at the Commonwealth Avenue administrative complex

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