Finding solutions together for southwest area overcrowding

By S. Dallas Dance, Superintendent

On May 8 and again on May 30, more than 200 Baltimore County parents and citizens joined together with Baltimore County Public Schools administrators to share ideas about how to add 500 elementary seats and modernized schools in the southwest area of Baltimore County.

What we have heard from the community – and fully agree with – is that while the need for additional capacity is urgent, we need to choose the right solution. Partial solutions and “band-aid” solutions are not solutions at all. Our students and the citizens in the southwest area of the county deserve changes that will ensure that all students in the region have effective 21st century learning environments.

As Beverly Coleman, chair of the Southwest Area Education Advisory Committee said, “In the end, we want to do more than just solve the problem of having enough classrooms to hold our students. We want to use this as an opportunity to make our schools better places for learning and student success.”

Possible long-term solutions, discussed at both meetings, range from building school additions to constructing a new school.

At our May 8 meeting, community members recommended six potential sites for a new school in addition to the Bloomsbury site that Baltimore County Public Schools had already begun investigating. The other sites are a property near the Catonsville Park & Ride, a senior center, Spring Grove, the Children’s Home, a property near Dimitri’s, and the Banneker Recreation Area.

At the May 30 meeting, BCPS staff and a representative of the GWWO architecture firm described the size, location, and current ownership of each of seven properties, and reviewed the site development and school construction process – including the multiple opportunities for community involvement.

The process for building a new school is a lengthy one – usually taking from 29 to 52 months (and that doesn’t include the time required for land acquisition if we don’t already own the land).

In late October/early November, we will invite the community to join with us again to hear and respond to thorough assessments of the seven sites and proposals to address the capacity issues in the southwest for the long-term.

While we are working on those recommendations, however, the BCPS Physical Facilities and Strategic Planning offices will be working closely with assistant superintendents, the Southwest Area Education Advisory Council and the local PTAs to develop short-term relief strategies to be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year. We expect updates on these relief strategies by October.

In the process of getting where we want to go, there will be, sometimes, conflicting ideas about which direction is the right course. But by joining together, by combining our collective wisdom, in the end we will achieve what we all want – better and more effective learning environments for our students.

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