Action Langley Park urged to act
July 20, 2001

County School Board Member Doyle Niemann (Dist. 3) urged Action Langley Park (ALP) members on Thursday to lobby the school system to meet the area's needs.

Because Langley Park schools "serve many of the same kinds of students and have many of the same kinds of problems," there is incentive to "insist that the school system, as a whole, do some integrated planning," said Niemann.

The three schools have more than 56 percent Hispanic students each, much higher than the county average of 7.4 percent. The schools serving Langley Park also have higher percentages of low-income students than the county average of 42 percent, he said. While approximately 50 percent of Adelphi and Cool Spring elementary pupils are eligible for reduced and free lunches, more than 90 percent of students at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary are eligible.

He said the nonprofit organization is in a position to pressure the school board to pay more attention to projects like the construction of a new elementary school at Adelphi and Metzerott roads, a new English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program and attendance at summer school. Niemann is working on setting up a meeting with Schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts to place their agenda higher on her radar screen.

Bill Hanna, executive secretary of ALP, discussed the possibility of forming a Parent Teacher Association. The organization once formed a PTA, but it folded because the most motivated participants left the organization after their own children graduated. Though there were no concrete plans discussed, Hanna expressed interest in jumpstarting the PTA again. "I suspect we'll revisit that," he said.

A new elementary school for pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade will be completed in September 2002 to accommodate the overflow in area schools. Niemann said the school board hopes to find a principal for the unnamed new school this year.

Its ESOL program, said Niemann, will be similar to an approach being tested next year at Langley Park-McCormick. The program will group ESOL pupils with gifted children in an attempt to accelerate their learning curve. ESOL teachers will remain in the classrooms during social studies, science and math courses. "Kids need to be able to learn in a context, as opposed to in isolation," said Langley Park-McCormick Principal Cheryl Logan, who also attended the meeting. ESOL pupils will see peers who perform at an above-average level as role models, she said.

More efficient coordination of area elementary schools was also discussed at the meeting. Cool Spring and Adelphi elementary schools include pupils in kindergarten through third grade, and Langley Park-McCormick serves grades four through six. Logan said the school hours can be awkward for parents with children in more than one school because they all have the same hours: They begin at 8 a.m. and end at 2p.m. "If you're a mother who has children in more than one school," she said, "you pick up the small ones first, and then the older ones wait with me."

Parents and principals have raised the issue of making the three schools kindergarten through sixth grade, said Niemann. This option would make transportation to and from school easier for some parents. "As we re-draw the boundaries within the area [to incorporate the new school]," said Niemann, "It makes sense to address this issue."

In a discussion of summer school attendance, Niemann encouraged greater parent participation. Summer school is mandatory for second and sixth graders who performed poorly on their California Test of Basic Skills, had low grades and were recommended to the program by their teachers this year.

But children are not coming to class. This is the first year of the countywide program. The school system has not decided how they will enforce the initiative, though pupils will be re-evaluated at the end of the summer to determine whether they will advance to the next grade level.

"Clearly more has to be done on the community level to convince parents that [summer school] is important," Niemann said. "A lot of students that should have been in those classes and have been enrolled, aren't coming to class," he said.

Though Hanna said he will help compile an agenda for the Metts meeting on Langley Park's educational concerns, he questioned the ability to interest community members to attend. At the last meeting with the school board, he said, there were about 10 parents and 20 school employees.

One way to remedy the attendance problem, he said, might be to hold the meeting on a Sunday. Though he doesn't know if that is feasible for the school board staff, he said "the biggest assembly of residents in this area is at Sunday mass" and a meeting after mass would catch the greatest number of concerned residents.