Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mark Twain to close at the end of the school year

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County school officials are again speeding up the closing of the Mark Twain program, with plans to shut down the Rockville school for emotionally disabled students at the end of this school year.

Montgomery County Public School officials said the closing was not due to the current budget constraints, but because of declining enrollment.

The school system’s initial projection for the 2008-2009 school year was 24 students, but that number fell to 10 as some students either withdrew, were referred to other programs or incarcerated, school system officials reported.

‘‘We didn’t think it was in the best interest of the students to run a program for 10 kids,” Brian K. Edwards, county schools chief of staff, said during a press conference on Friday.

The program would have cost the school system more than $1.2 million in fiscal 2009, school officials reported.

The number of students with emotional disabilities enrolled in public schools has been declining for years, according to school officials.

Frieda K. Lacey, deputy superintendent of schools, said she believes elementary school reform initiatives, such as reading in early childhood classrooms, have played a part in that.

‘‘Students act out because they are insecure or unsure about themselves,” Lacey said.

In MCPS Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s recommended operating budget, he suggested a two-year phase-out, closing the Mark Twain program by June 2009. Weast cited low test scores and low enrollment in his decision to close the program.

For three consecutive years, Mark Twain failed to meet the target goals for continuous improvement each year.

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is measured by the Maryland School Assessment, a standardized test in reading and math for middle school students. High school students’ progress is measured by the High School Assessment, which tests students in algebra, biology, English and government.

The closing of the Mark Twain program is the result of a shift in the school system’s focus on special education, moving towards inclusion of students closer to general education classrooms, school officials said.

‘‘No Child Left Behind has pushed the bar up and we are held accountable for all kids in all categories,” Lacey said.

She added that studies have shown that students perform better academically when included in general education classrooms rather than segregated learning environments.

The remaining 10 students who would have attended Mark Twain School next year will transfer to a high school with an emotional disabilities program, Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents or private schools.

The emotional disabilities cluster programs will be enhanced over the years, school officials said. Three social workers and three psychiatrists were hired in fiscal 2008 and they plan to request additional funds for psychiatric consultation.

The Mark Twain facility will remain open to continue running the programs that are housed there, such as the Fleet Street and Randolph Academy programs for middle and high school students in lieu of expulsion and the 45-day suspension program.

School officials said parents of the affected Mark Twain students were individually contacted and will be assigned a case manager to help with the transition next school year.

‘‘We’re amazed by their versatility,” Mark Twain Principal Frances Irvin said.

‘‘This is the end of a great year. This is a great school to be in,” Irvin added.