Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Parents ponder future effects of redistricting

Some say Hampshire Greens vote will have minimal impact; others concerned about process

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When it came time for Hampshire Greens resident Patsy Hurst-Moore to choose a middle school for her oldest children, she decided to keep them in private school partly because of the 10-mile commute to Francis Scott Key Middle School.

But after the Montgomery County Board of Education changed the Silver Spring community’s assignment earlier this month to Briggs Chaney Middle School, fewer than five miles away, Hurst-Moore said she plans to send her second-grader there when the time comes.

The board ‘‘understood it was not about a particular school,” said Hurst-Moore, who was active in the community’s redistricting efforts. ‘‘It was about the commute.”

While Hampshire Greens residents who asked for the school change believe it will have a minimal impact both immediately and in the long-term, others worried how the decision might affect the county’s school districting process.

Hampshire Greens residents had unsuccessfully lobbied the board three times in the last four years for redistricting. But earlier this year, the board voted in favor of a boundary study to determine if the community’s students should continue attending Key or be reassigned to another middle school.

In a series of votes July 17, the board rejected Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s recommendation of keeping the students at Key and narrowly approved Briggs Chaney instead of White Oak Middle School.

In the weeks to come, Key and Briggs Chaney will be contacting the estimated 15 families in the 280-home community that could be affected, said Ursula A. Hermann, community superintendent for the Northeast Consortium and Sherwood cluster, which includes the two middle schools.

Under the board’s ruling, all incoming sixth-graders in Hampshire Greens would go to Briggs Chaney in the fall, while students who will be in seventh- and eighth-grades that already attend Key would have the option to remain there or go to Briggs Chaney. Thirteen students from the community attended Key last year. Previous studies have estimated the decision could affect 25 students.

‘‘We’re doing whatever needs to be done to facilitate the move,” Hermann said. ‘‘We just want to move on and take care of our kids.”

Eric Minus, principal at Key, was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Kimberly Johnson, principal of Briggs Chaney, did not return calls for comment.

Melvin Moore, a member of Briggs Chaney’s PTSA, said the additional students will enhance the school without causing overcrowding. ‘‘We at Briggs Chaney welcome the Hampshire Greens community to our PTSA and our school,” he said.

Melissa Rosenberg, Key’s outgoing PTSA president, called the ruling disappointing and surprising. The decision not only means a loss of students at Key, she said, but a loss of their parents, many of whom were active members of the school community. ‘‘They’re good people with lots of energy and resources,” she said. ‘‘They did what they thought they needed to do for the community and so did we. We wish them well.”

Rosenberg expressed concern with the precedent the board’s ruling may have set for other communities in a similar situation. Opponents of the redistricting said the community was ‘‘school shopping,” trying to pick a preferred school.

Board members who voted for White Oak said the school would address the Hampshire Greens community’s concerns about travel distance while not contradicting previously established board policies. Additionally, an amendment passed in conjunction with the redistricting reaffirmed the boundary study only applied to Hampshire Greens’ middle school district.

‘‘We all knew it was a long distance,” Rosenberg said. ‘‘Are we going to look at all the little pockets?”

Darnell Daisey, a Hampshire Greens resident who led the community’s redistricting effort, said the board will know when a community has a legitimate need and when it is school shopping.

‘‘They can tell the difference between a preference and a hardship,” he said.

Hampshire Greens’ boundaries were set in 1997, before residents moved in, as part of the formation of the Northeast Consortium. Residents have said the distance to Key put a strain on both students and parents.

‘‘We were simply trying to correct a mistake that was made 10 years ago,” said Rich DiPippo, president of the community’s homeowners association.

The community is planning a celebration next month to thank residents and supporters of the redistricting plan, DiPippo added.

‘‘It’s good to see it come to a conclusion,” said Greg Hymel, former president of the Hampshire Greens Homeowners Association. ‘‘This took a lot of energy.”