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February 4, 2020

News A3

County-wide boundary analysis advances to next stage

Plan to examine school boundaries brings criticism and confusion at community meetings By Adam Chazan Staff Writer MCPS’ countywide review of school boundaries continued through several more community meetings this January. The debate surrounding the analysis arrived at Montgomery Blair on Jan. 11 and was followed by two more meetings at Northwest and Walter Johnson. In September, the consulting firm WXY Architecture + Urban

“The primary objective is to have a deep… and comprehensive understanding of the entire county as it relates to facility utilization, student diversity and geographic proximity,” MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said. Facility utilization refers to the number of students that are enrolled in a school divided by the school’s capacity. According to the packets WXY released at the meetings, MCPS aims to have schools enrolled

EDSON ORELLANA CLEARING THE AIR WXY representative Kushan Dave presents at the Blair on Jan. 11. It was the fourth of six community meetings.

Design won a $475,000 contract to conduct the analysis. Throughout the meeting at Blair, Kushan Dave, presenter and planning director at WXY, reiterated that the analysis would not be making recommendations to the Board of Education regarding future boundary changes. “Our job is to be objective, [and] objectively record what the data is telling us, what the community is telling us. And that’s it,” Dave said. WXY will provide a report to the MCPS Board of Education for members to consult when making future decisions about school boundaries. The report will have two components: statistical data and the testimony collected at community meetings.

at 80–100 percent capacity. WXY found that only 45 out of 135 elementary schools, 23 out of 40 middle schools, and 12 out of 25 high schools were within the target range. WXY created statistics related to diversity using the number of students at a given school that have utilized the FARMS program at any point while enrolled in MCPS (Ever-FARMs.) WXY has stated that the final report will include other measurements of diversity. Proximity is quantified by the percentage of students not assigned to the school closest to them, excluding magnet and choice programs. According to WXY’s material, 45 percent of all middle school students do not attend their nearest school.

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Schools and offices closed President’s day

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Early release day for students Interims

Community meetings

The community boundary meetings are organized by Steve Brigham, who works for Public Engagement Associates, a subcontractor of WXY. “Our role is working with [WXY] and working with the school system to actually do the outreach and recruitment in planning for the meetings that we do with the public,” Brigham said. Zuckerman, too, reminded community members that MCPS does not have further plans for the analysis after it is submitted to the Board of Education—a particular point of contention at the Walter Johnson meeting. “The final report will be presented to the Board of Education in June. At that point, the Board has the report,” he said. “What they do with it at that point becomes the question of how to use the reference document going forward.” MCPS’ refusal to include future boundary recommendations in the scope of the analysis disappointed former Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse. “This boundary assessment won’t even be making recommendations because the Board is not even including that in the scope of this study, and that’s problematic,” she said. “If we’re spending a half-million dollars on a group to look at all the data in the county, we want to get everything we can for that money.” Following disruptions and hostility towards WXY presenters at the Julius West Middle School meeting on Dec. 11, WXY and Brigham chose to include a portion at the beginning of the presentation which answered frequently asked questions. “Based on the first two meetings that we’ve held, in one of them which was quite contentious, we realized that there’s a lot of misinformation about what [we’re] doing,” Brigham said. “We want to make sure that as we’re looking at the results of all six meetings that people are basically hearing the same things.” Ortman-Fouse believes that the conversation was dominated by a specific group of people. “You have this one area of the county that is your least diverse, highest income area as the loudest voices, trying to stop an assessment to ensure that our tax dollars are used responsibly for all of our school facilities and that all of our children are getting equitable opportunity,” she said. At the Blair meeting, some raised concerns about including minority communities in the conversation. During a poll conducted by WXY as part of the presentation, 65 percent of the meeting’s attendants identified as white. Brigham maintains that WXY is making an effort to include the communities that were not present at the first six community meetings. “We’re doing 20 smaller meetings, anywhere from 10–30 people of harder-to-reach populations which are primarily immigrant populations, lower income populations, students, to make sure we’re hear-


ABOVE MCPS COO Andrew Zuckerman answers a question at the Walter Johnson meeting. LEFT An attendee of the Walter Johnson meeting asks a question about the boundary analysis.

ing the voices of those who generally don’t or can’t attend public meetings when they’re held,” he said. Each table had a facilitator tasked with promoting discussion and recording notes to be included in the final report. “As a facilitator I was charged with… making sure that the conversation stayed on topic so that we kept the conversation moving and productive,” Clarksburg senior Zoe Tishaev, a facilitator at the Walter Johnson meeting, said.

Mixed response County Councilman Tom Hucker attended the meeting at Blair. Hucker believes that the boundary analysis is a necessary part of life in MCPS. “The boundary study is long overdue,” he said. “We routinely, regularly update political boundaries and school district boundaries for the school board members and all kinds of other things to make sure we’re optimally utilizing our public resources as populations change.” Magruder English Teacher Eric Williams also attended the community meeting at Blair. During the group discussions, Williams expressed his support for the boundary analysis, which he said was harmless. “It is just data collection and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “That’s a neutral thing.” Despite MCPS’ efforts to clear

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the air surrounding their analysis, the Facebook group titled ‘Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools Without Redistricting’ has amassed over 7,400 members at the time of publication. The group’s description reads that they will “advocate for preserving local community school zones for our residents and fight MCPS board moves to bus children out of their schools,” something that MCPS has stated will not occur as part of this analysis. Other community members like Gina McNeal, a parent, held signs in support of school integration at the entrance to the Walter Johnson meeting. “I believe there is an opportunity gap among students in our county and that essentially we have de-facto segregation in our schools,” she said. WXY is developing a tool for the public to interact with the three different criteria for the study. “We’ll have an interactive tool where you’ll be able to set up, go in, and start to see what the school cluster [is] telling us,” Dave said. “You could give it a click, look at all the data, and assess for yourself where you are.” Misconceptions about the prospect of boundary change recommendations prompted MCPS to release a Dec. 11 statement, clarifying that the study would not recommend changes and reaffirming the county’s commitment to diverse schools. According to Zuckerman, an interim report for the boundary analysis will be released in February. The final boundary analysis report will be presented to the Board of Education in June.

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Montgomery Blair

Profile for Silver Chips Print Online Edition

February 2020 — Silver Chips Print  

February 2020 edition of Silver Chips Print from Montgomery Blair High School. Editors-in-Chief: Prayag Gordy and Uma Gupta. Subscribe:...

February 2020 — Silver Chips Print  

February 2020 edition of Silver Chips Print from Montgomery Blair High School. Editors-in-Chief: Prayag Gordy and Uma Gupta. Subscribe:...


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