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Sharing Potomac Schools

Up to 44 students from Gaithersburg's Rosemont Elementary can enroll in Cold Spring Elementary School next fall.

On the other hand, there is also the possibility that zero parents will take the option to enroll their children in the Potomac school, located approximately 6.6 miles away from Rosemont in Gaithersburg next school year.

Many questions were left unanswered after an information meeting held by the school system at Cold Spring Elementary School last Thursday evening, May 30.

Concern about the unknown permeated the questions and comments of the 75-plus parents and community members who attended.

"This is the first time we are doing this," said Joseph I. Headman, Jr., community superintendent with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) who is in charge of Wootton cluster schools. "We are about doing it right for our children."

Despite the uncertainty and anxiety of Cold Spring parents, many answers simply won't be able to be addressed until July 17, the day the county is scheduled to determine the exact number of students who have been approved to take part in a new program that will allow Rosemont Elementary parents to send their children to Cold Spring.

"We will be constantly looking at enrollment all year, but in July we will be working with Marty [Barnett, principal of Cold Spring] to determine the needs of the school," said Headman.

IN RESPONSE to federal requirements under the No Children Left Behind Act of 2001, Montgomery County Public Schools is implementing a program that will allow parents of children in 10 schools that have not demonstrated increased student performance over the last two years the option to send their children to 10 "receiving schools" matched to their home school. Rosemont has been matched with Cold Spring. (See box.)

"Here is what you need to know. This is a caring community. We have some challenges, we know that. But whomever walks through the door gets the best education they can," said Barnett.

Cold Spring was selected to be the receiving school for Rosemont for three reasons: its proximity to the Gaithersburg school, the fact that Cold Spring's student performance is well above the state average and because Cold Spring's enrollment is under 95 percent capacity.

Cold Spring, which has a current enrollment of 370 and a capacity of 414, according to Barnett, has a projected enrollment of 359 next school year.

"Did you ever consider that our school is successful because of classes that are small?" asked one parent.

Headman assured that any increase in enrollment would remain under the current guidelines mandated by MCPS. In non-Title I schools, kindergarten classes can have up to 25 students, first-, second- and third-grade classes up to 28, and up to 30 for fourth and fifth grades.

"When looking at schools, research says the key to success is an outstanding principal, an outstanding staff and an outstanding community," said Headman.

ALTHOUGH PARENTS applauded their principal's assurance that he would make this program work for all students who walked through the door, they wanted specific assurances of resources they would receive to ensure the program won't harm the education of their own children already enrolled.

"Parents would like assurances. We need some assurances to make sure this works for all children," said one parent.

Robin Kirk, PTA president of Cold Spring, said the school PTA has already set up a welcoming committee for any student who comes from Rosemont.

"The Cold Spring PTA will welcome and be advocates for any child that comes through the door," said Kirk. "Every child deserves to get an education. Will we be provided an activity bus? What extra resources will we expect to see?"

But Headman and Chrisandra Richardson, coordinator of federal and state programs, couldn't give specific answers to those type of questions — repeated many times in many different ways by numerous parents — until they know how many students will transfer from Rosemont.

"I know you're asking for a level of specificity," said Richardson. "We're going to be monitoring this every single week."

"The assurance I can give is that this school expects this to be successful. Our commitment is to monitor this and our expectation is that this school will continue to fly and each child will continue to succeed," said Headman.

UNTIL IMPROVEMENT in achievement is documented, Rosemont parents will continue to be able to enroll students at Cold Spring. Up to 44 can be enrolled and priority is given to those who demonstrate evidence of low levels of academic achievement and low-income. All other students are considered on a space available basis and a lottery selection process will be used if there are more requests than spaces allowed.

ONE PARENT said that sounded as if it would just be moving the worst performing students to Cold Spring.

"We don't know every child will want to take part. You are making the assumption that every child will be low income and low achieving," said Richardson.

Another parent asked how this might impact on the behavior in classrooms.

"You can hear a pin drop," said one parent.

"You set expectations for children and they meet them. This is a slippery slope when you say children at poverty level won't know how to behave," said Richardson.

At one point, two parents at Cold Spring told the audience they were offended by some of the comments made at the meeting by other parents.

"Parents choosing this are parents who want to be involved. These are parents who want to see their children succeed. I'm personally offended by some of the comments made here," said one parent. "I'm a person who received free meals. I was a straight-A student because, in my family, there was an emphasis on education. I'm offended when there's an implication that there is going to be trouble."

Another member of the audience said she is a product of affirmative action who earned her Ph.D. But she said she is offended that the school system has not prepared the community and given it time to get ready for this, by taking a year for training, for training parents in diversity.

"I feel sorry for the kids that are coming because it's not going to be easy for them," she said.

ONE PARENT asked how this would impact on the teachers; would it be creating more pressure on them without giving them more resources.

"I would like to hear from the teachers," she said.

"This is my 30th year. I love Cold Spring and I've seen a lot of change. It's always been a great community," said Karen xx. "Teachers work very hard for all our students. I don't think the county is asking us to take any more responsibility than is already set. This year, I had 27 students and last year I had 21. It is hard, but some years you have more and some years you have less. I think we owe it to all children that the opportunity is there."

THE MARYLAND STATE Department of Education identified the 10 Title I schools as eligible for the enrollment option on the basis of two consecutive years of declining scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP). The state identified 114 such schools in Maryland, according to MCPS documents.

The immediate goal is to improve the academic progress of the 10 schools so they no longer qualify for the enrollment option.

When Rosemont demonstrates consistent improvement, students will be sent back to their home school at the next school year. Parents may elect to keep students at Cold Spring, although transportation would then become their own responsibility.

"What does this do to Rosemont's test scores? This can drain what positives there are in the school," said one parent. "What will you do to bring them up?"

For Title I schools, The Board of Education has authorized the implementation of full-day kindergarten with class sizes of 15 students and reduced class sizes of 17 in grades one and two in each of the identified schools. Those benefits will be available at Rosemont, but not at Coldspring.

Other measures to help improve achievement at Rosemont and the 10 schools are the Reading Recovery Program, additional staff for mathematics, gifted-and-talented instruction and English for Speakers of Other Languages. The summer enrichment and accelerated instructional program Extended Learning Opportunities will be available for students entering kindergarten through third grade and afterschool activities for students are also being planned.