Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr on Monday told a Bethesda audience the growing school system has little choice but to reclaim land it leased out long ago in order to build new schools.
Many supporters of the Brickyard Educational Farm in Potomac showed up at the Citizens Advisory Board meeting to urge Starr not to consider the site for a new Potomac Elementary School. The property, originally owned by the Board of Education, was recently tied up in a two-year legal battle over the fate of an organic farm supporters say should be used as an educational resource, not a new school.
“We’ve not determined what we’re going to do with it. There’s no excess space to be had in the county. We need schools and we need sites for schools,” Starr said. “People want ballfields and tennis courts and a whole bunch of things and I’m not prepared at this time to commit any parcel of land to anything outside of a school purpose, if it is deemed appropriate it should be used for that purpose.”
MCPS is growing by an estimated 2,500 students a year and Starr said the school system’s budget is not increasing with it.
“It’s not about not wanting an educational farm,” Starr said. “It’s about all the other things that we have to do while also considering what to do with the land.”
A similar scenario played out at Rock Creek Hills Park in Kensington, where the school system recently got ownership back of the park for a second middle school to ease overcrowding in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster.
Residents around the park sued so that it wouldn’t be used for a new middle school. The Board of Education transferred the land of the park to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1990 on the condition that if it determined it needed it for a a school, M-NCPPC would transfer it back.
With Westland Middle School 136 students over its 1,036 capacity this school year and Grade 6 reassignments from elementary schools expected to put it at 600 students over capacity, a location committee determined MCPS needed the site for a new middle school now.
MCPS is planning for the unnamed B-CC Middle School No. 2 to open in August 2017. Starr said he is confident that the school will open on-time and on-budget, but he stopped short of guaranteeing it would be in the six-year Capital Budget he proposes to Montgomery County this fall.
“You never know what will happen. There are lots of competing demands,” Starr said. “At this point, I fully intend to keep it on the timeline that it’s on, with the anticipation that we will be able to meet that deadline. But it’s also not fully up to me.”
Starr also talked about pushing MCPS toward the Common Core curriculum, which has begun in elementary schools with the implementation of Curriculum 2.0 and for some high school students with reworked AP exams. Starr is a staunch advocate for what he calls a more well-rounded curriculum than policies out of the No Child Left Behind era.
“It has expanded the definition of what success means academically. All of the traditional academic measures of success are changing,” Starr said. “We have to take this growing community and growing school system that has done incredibly well on so many measures and take it to what’s next. We are the first district to get to the Moon, now we have to get to Mars.”