Charles County struggles with overcrowded schools

Darci Marchese,

WALDORF, Md. – Just about every county goes through growing pains. Charles County is no exception, and its growth is having a huge impact on the school system.

The school system is struggling with overcrowded schools and looking for solutions.

According to the U.S. Census, the population of Charles County has grown nearly 22 percent in the past decade.

Part of the solution is a redistricting plan that impacts schools that have seen a disproportionate amount of growth: William A. Diggs Elementary School; Mary B. Neal Elementary School; J.C. Parks Elementary School; Barry Elementary School; Theodore G. Davis Middle School; Milton M. Somers Middle School; and Matthew Henson Middle School.

A redistricting committee has developed several proposals for the superintendent and Board of Education to consider.

The board will vote on a final plan April 10 but not before getting an earful from concerned parents.

More than 200 people packed North Point High School Monday night to argue against the redistricting plan. More than 50 parents and children voiced concerns over moving some students from popular, high performing schools to lower performing schools. Others expressed concern over busing children farther on dangerous, rural roads.

Parents complained the schools have changed school boundaries five times in the last 14 years.

“Suggesting yet another redistricting is more than our children can bear,” said parent Laurie Hayes.

Under the proposal, sixth-grader Carine would have to leave Davis Middle School to go to Matthew Henson Middle School.

“I realize I’m going to get kicked out and I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair,” she told the board.

The transfer from Davis Middle School to Matthew Henson Middle is a sore spot for many parents, including Leigh Sylvain who has two children slated for Davis. Her online research shows a wide gap between Maryland State Assessment test scores at the two schools. Davis is ranked the third highest scoring middle school in Charles County and Matthew Henson is fifth.

“By the time students leave the 8th grade, Davis students score nearly 20 percent higher in some areas. The size of the Davis-Henson achievement gap actually triples over the course of middle school in reading and quadruples in math,” Sylvain told the board.

“That is not the kind of change we want for our children,” she said.

Other parents, including Colleen Longhi, pointed out that out-of-county students are being allowed to transfer into the schools from which their children are being forced to leave. She received a standing ovation after saying, “Leave our kids at Davis Middle School.”

Some parents are worried this is just the beginning of painful moves since next year, the school system will begin reviewing high school boundaries in anticipation of building St. Charles High School in 2014.

Charles County Superintendent James Richmond says he realizes these are hard decisions, but says frankly, “We have overcrowded schools. They’ve been for years.”

He says redistricting will take students out of overcrowded schools and place them into schools with plenty of room. He says Diggs Elementary and Davis Middle School are overcrowded by 300 to 400 students each.

This is the second public hearing held on this issue. The first saw over 75 people speaking out against the redistricting plan.

The school board will receive written comment until April 5 then will vote April 10.

Read more about the redistricting plan on the Charles County Board of Education’s website.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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