Bowie boundary changes evoke anger
March 24, 2005
Marcus Moore
Staff Writer

Kathy Blackwell's daughter Alexandria has endured quite an educational ordeal during her three years in the Prince George's school system.

Blackwell, whose child previously attended Rockledge Elementary School in Bowie, transferred her daughter to Glenarden Woods Elementary so she could enroll in the magnet program.

But the idea backfired, Blackwell said, because her daughter began to long for her Rockledge days. Her grades slipped to levels below the honor roll and she mourned the loss of friends she had played and laughed with.

Blackwell eventually conceded to her daughter's depression and moved her back into Rockledge, where she is currently a second grader. She is back on the honor roll and her thirst for education has been renewed.

But under the county's proposed boundary changes, Blackwell's daughter would once again have to relocate, but this time she would have to attend High Bridge Elementary School near Old Town Bowie.

"I thought this change would be in her best interest," Blackwell told school officials during a March 16 boundary change meeting, "but I see it is not."

Blackwell was one of 78 parents and community activists who aired their grievances over the changes at the meeting.

Last Wednesday's meeting symbolized the state of Bowie's public schools as hordes of community residents overcrowded the multi-purpose room.

While many parents spoke of the boundary change's psychological effects on the children and were worried that children would be transferred to schools with lower test scores, Dr. Susan Johnston, who has two children attending Rockledge Elementary, chastised the county's school board for comparing the children to facts and figures. She said that while it is important to discuss numbers in relation to the boundary changes, the figures should not override the needs of the children. If the changes are approved, then only 64 of the 577 Rockledge pupils would attend the school next year.

Vivian Ricks and Kim Meriwether, co-presidents of the Rockledge Elementary PTA, said Monday that they have contacted county officials and the Board of Education to discuss the dramatic impact the boundary changes would have on Rockledge.

"We aren't talking about math and lines, we are talking about children," Johnston said. "It's about the community working together...and now they're going to be split between four different schools. Think about the people. If you claim you want to build a community, what image do you think leads to a better community?"

The impact on Bowie is highlighted by the completed renovation of Whitehall Elementary School and the conversion of Samuel Ogle Elementary into a middle school. The boundary changes would ease overcrowded conditions at Benjamin Tasker Middle School, Maryland's most overcrowded middle school, said County Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters (D.-Dist. 4) of Bowie.

When the shifts take effect, Tasker, which is currently at 150 percent capacity, would be reduced to 110 percent capacity. Under the proposed changes, many sixth graders from High Bridge, Rockledge and Yorktown Elementary would attend Samuel Ogle Middle School next year. Many parents at the meeting were concerned about placing sixth graders directly into middle school. The opening of Northview Elementary School and Bladensburg High School's move out of Bowie's Bel Air Annex in 2006 would change the boundaries yet again, school officials said.

City officials want to place Bowie High's ninth graders in the annex to alleviate crowding at the high school.

Not everyone is opposed to the proposed boundary changes though.

Benjamin Woolery, the former president of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce and parent of a Rockledge pupil, said that while he is somewhat apprehensive about moving his daughter to another school, he thinks the parents should work with the county's school board to get the best from a touchy situation.

"This is a good thing," Woolery said. "Let's all pitch in because these are [easing] our problems. We've been waiting for this."

Dr. Andre Hornsby, chief executive officer of the Prince George's school system, attended the meeting and told the over capacity crowd that while boundary changes are always difficult on the parents and the schools, it is necessary as the county's student population continues to grow. He also said that the two most difficult things a school board would ever have to deal with is the closing of a school and boundary changes.

In the next two years, he said, "we would have balanced your schools in terms of enrollment, and have no temporary buildings," Hornsby said. "We're not going to make everybody happy, we understand that, but there have been years and years of decision making that will make this happen. It's gonna be a little touchy."

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