The Great School Divide

The Great School Divide

Issues surrounding Seven Locks Elementary, future Kendale School remain contentious.

Preliminary design planning for a new school on Kendale Road began Oct 20, but some residents think it is still possible to stop the project.

Others are content to let the Kendale school go forward, but are deeply concerned about the future of Seven Locks Elementary School, just around the corner from the Kendale site. No decision has been made about Seven Locks, but the Montgomery County Board of Education is considering declaring the school’s land as surplus and selling it off for another use after the Kendale school is built.

The Potomac Elementary and Seven Locks Elementary School PTAs held a joint forum Oct. 28 at Seven Locks to hear community opinions on these issues while contemplating possible PTA resolutions.

The meeting had a charged atmosphere as civic activists, Seven Locks and Potomac Elementary parents, and community members, including those without children in the school system took turns at an open microphone.

Montgomery County Public Schools planner Adrienne Karamihas and Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) also spoke and responded to questions from the community.

KARAMIHAS DESCRIBED how boundary studies are conducted in Montgomery County but noted that they do not begin until one year before a new school is set to open. The Kendale Road school is scheduled to open in 2007. Possible boundary changes are a divisive issue attached to the already controversial school plans.

Karamihas described how the MCPS demographer makes enrollment projections and how citizens can participate in the Kendale design process. She then was bombarded by a bevy of audience questions, including Courtenay Ellis' question, “Why can’t we save Seven Locks School?”

Asked about the discontinuities between the County and the School Board’s plans for Seven Locks, Karamihas replied, “I can’t speak for the County. At this point, we still own the land. It’s MCPS property and it’s still a school. I cannot speak about the future of what is going to happen here. What I see is the school is here right now and what I’m dealing with is putting a new school on a new site.”

Sandy Vogelgesang spoke on behalf of the West Bradley Citizens Association.

“One of our concerns is, as we go down the slippery slope in terms of putting a replacement school on Kendale: in effect, that puts the nail in the coffin for this school," Vogelgesang said. "And this school is not only an important school for our community’s children … this is our only community gathering place. The grounds here are the only recreation site within walking distance for most of our children. So it’s more than a school issue, it’s a community issue.”

Vogelgesang advocated opposing the Kendale school and modernizing Seven Locks Elementary, essentially reverting to the plan which had existed February of this year.

“Welcome to soon-to-be-gone school. Over my dead body,” Ellis said before enumerating what he saw as misguided motivations for and logical failures of the Kendale and Seven Locks plans. “If I wanted to live in Manhattan, I’d be in New York,” he said, referring to the possible replacement Seven Locks School with affordable housing.

ATTENDEES QUARRELED over the terms “high-density housing” and “workforce housing” and some suggested that Seven Locks School would be replaced with a high rise building. No such plans currently exist.

Del. Cryor spoke from her seat in the audience in the middle of the meeting. She rallied the community to use its numbers.

“You can’t think of the State Board of Education as perhaps the higher court,” she said. “You want to be able to come together and make the solution yourself, to put your own pressure on your own local people representing us on the school board or the County Council.”

“It’s no one’s fault, but we’re late to come to the problem,” Cryor said, but there is hope for those unhappy with the current plans.

“Can this be revisited at the School Board level? Well, never say never,” she said. “If only two people show up, I promise you it will not be revisited. If a dozen show up, it won’t be. If indeed this whole area says to the School Board, ‘You must go back and look at this question one more time. … We want it looked at again. We do not believe it was looked at carefully and thoroughly.’ And that’s where you start with this.”

Her speech received a prolonged ovation.