Thoughts After a Boisterous Hearing on School Closings and Boundary Changes

by Tommi Makila

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education’s Public Hearing on Boundary Changes and Proposed School Consolidations on February 23, 2016 was an amazing and wild affair. If you were not able to attend the hearing, you may view a recording of it online.

The hearing was eye opening and thought provoking. The issues that generated the most comments were the proposed closures of Forestville High School and Skyline Elementary, as well as boundary changes in the Accokeek and Fort Washington areas.

As I was sitting at the hearing, many thoughts came to mind. It is hard to organize those feelings into a chronological narrative, so I am providing the following rather random list of thoughts:

  • CEO Kevin Maxwell did not attend the hearing. Yet, since 2013, when the school board was restructured (see Maryland House Bill 1107), it is the CEO — not the Board of Education — who has authority to close schools. Moreover, it was the CEO who introduced these proposals for school consolidations and boundary changes (see p. 17 of this document) to the Board of Education. It was a surprise not to see him there.
  • Sometimes people power works! The hearing was one of the most powerful public hearings I have ever attended—powerful enough to push the BOE to postpone all boundary decisions until next year. But residents and parents only seem to get involved when these kinds of drastic problems come up, issues that dramatically impact their children and families. In many ways this is natural, but we need to be engaged at other times too.
  • We need to keep the needs of our students first and foremost. The Skyline Elementary closure proposal was the most striking example of student needs getting lost in the shuffle. Skyline has a large population of autistic kids, and parents convincingly argued that the school provides high-quality services for them. Testimony from the Skyline parents was heartbreaking. It is obvious that we must find a way to maintain the existing special services for these kids.
  • Schools are important for communities. When we are looking at school closures or major boundary changes, we must work with the impacted communities and always try to find community solutions. Try to keep Accokeek students in Accokeek, Ft. Washington kids in Ft. Washington, Forestville in Forestville, and so forth. I believe that for local schools, strong community support and school pride are factors in their success.
  • When looking at school closures and boundary changes, central office personnel comes up with solutions that look fine on their spreadsheets and maps. But they may not be such great solutions for the people impacted. It is the responsibility of the CEO and Board of Education (BOE) members to work with communities to really understand all the issues and find the best solutions.
  • The process for handling these issues—school closures and major boundary changes—must be longer. While some community hearings on these issues were held in early December 2015, no specific plans were shared at that time. The first time actual proposals were made public was when the CEO presented his recommendations at the January 21 BOE meeting. The public hearing was held on February 23, and the BOE vote was originally scheduled for February 25. Considering the impact these changes have on communities, the process must be much longer and entail significant outreach and collaboration with local communities.

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Skyline ES Parents Fight to Keep Autism Program, School Open

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Parents of children in the autism program at Prince George’s County’s Skyline Elementary School gave emotional testimony during last night’s Board of Education meeting.

Below, I have noted the points in the board meeting video where each parent who spoke on behalf of their autistic child began their comments. I have also included a few sentences from each parent’s testimony.

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Speak up About Proposed Boundary Changes

In a news release dated Friday, February 19th, Prince George’s County Public Schools announced a public hearing about proposed school boundary changes and consolidations. The public hearing will be hosted by the Board of Education on Tuesday, February 23rd at 7 pm, in the Board room of the Sasscer Administration Building.

To register to speak at the meeting, sign up by calling 301-952-6300 before 4:30 p.m. the day of the hearing. Speakers will be limited to three minutes.

The CEO’s recommendations include consolidating Forestville High School into Suitland High School and consolidating Skyline Elementary School into William Beanes Elementary. It is also proposed that the 6th grade at certain K-6 elementary schools be reassigned to the feeder middle schools. The Board of Education will vote on the CEO’s proposed boundary changes at its February 25th meeting.

Keep reading to find more specifics about the boundary changes, consolidations, and grade  reorganizations that are on the table. Scroll to the end to find links to documents with more details about the proposed changes.

Recommended Changes:

New feeder pattern. Assign all Calverton Elementary School students to Martin L. King Jr. Middle School for grades 6-8. Currently, Calverton students feed into Buck Lodge Middle School, which is over capacity. Martin L. King Jr. has open seats.

Consolidations. Consolidate Forestville High School into Suitland High. Consolidate Skyline Elementary School into William Beanes Elementary. Assign 6th grades from both schools to Drew-Freeman Middle School.

Accokeek Area Boundary Changes. 

  • Change the boundaries of Accokeek Academy so that some neighborhoods are reassigned to Fort Washington Forest Elementary School and Gwynn Park Middle School.
  • Fort Washington Forest Elementary students will feed into Gwynn Park Middle and Gwynn Park High School.
  • Potomac Landing Elementary School will feed into Gwynn Park Middle and Gwynn Park High, instead of Accokeek Academy and Friendly High.

Grade adjustments. For the following elementary schools, the 6th grade will be reassigned to the feeder middle school:

Francis S. Key Elementary, Longfields Elementary, William Beanes Elementary, Ardmore Elementary, Kingsford Elementary, Cora L. Rice Elementary, Highland Park Elementary, Rose Valley Elementary, Flintstone Elementary, Glassmanor Elementary, Oxon Hill Elementary, Valley View Elementary

Read more:

Find the January 21st presentation to the Board of Education on the proposed boundary changes here: School Boundaries Board Presentation 2016 (1)

Find the community discussions on school boundaries, consolidations, and modernizations presentation here: Community Discussions Presentation (12-14-15)