Dance faces the music
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 13:07

Dr. S. Dallas Dance takes a question from Eastwood PTA president Kim Barnhouser.photo by Ben Boehl

Superintendent hears critics of  Eastwood plan

by Ben Boehl

For the first time since the Baltimore County public school system announced its plan to consolidate Eastwood Magnet Elementary School into Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle Schools, Superintendent S. Dallas Dance faced the music from the angry parents at the Eastwood school.
    Dance attended the Southeast Area Educational Advisory Council meeting at Dundalk High School on Monday night expecting to receive questions based on the Eastwood plan.
    Dance said that plan is about expanding the Eastwood magnet program and trying to utilize the Holabird Middle School building, which is only at 60 percent capacity.
    “I want to make sure we utilize our programs accordingly. We are not utilizing our unused facility at Holabird Middle” Dance said, referring to Holabird as being under capacity.
    “Expansion of the program [at Eastwood] was not going to work with 190 students in that program.”
    Melissa Allen said her child has a learning disability and she fought to get her daughter into  Eastwood. Now she feels upset that the program is closing.
    Allen told Dance that she likes how Eastwood has small classrooms and worries how her daughter and others will react to a larger classroom.
    “If Eastwood is such a great program, why do you want to kill the program?” Allen asked.
    Dance said there is an opportunity for growth of the program with the space available at Holabird.        
    He also noted that studies show that some parents take children out of public schools at the middle school level, but return them back in high school for extracurricular activities such as sports.
    “What can we do to get you back into our middle schools?” Dance said.    
    “Some kids go to elementary school, leave for middle school and come back for high school.”
    One parent suggested the school system make Holabird its own magnet school, since the closest magnet program on the east side is in Parkville.
    Kim Barnhouser, PTA president at Eastwood, is not only worried about the students at the schools, but she is fearful about  Eastwood teachers becoming unemployed.
    “Our teachers have not be guaranteed their jobs and our students will be diluted into other programs,” Branhouser said.
    Dance immediately wanted to end the rumor that the Eastwood teachers would be losing their jobs if the schools closed, insisting that those teachers will have the opportunity to follow the students to their new school.
    “Everyone is guaranteed a job,” Dance responded. “If that wasn’t the message from my staff, I have to correct that.”
    One parent suggested just sending over the fifth graders from Eastwood to Holabird since those students are a little more mature and would be better at adapting to the change of going to a middle school.
    Dance responded that adding the fifth graders would still leave Holabird under capacity.
    Another parent told Dance that her Eastwood child is having panic attacks because of the fear of going to a bigger school and getting bullied. That same parent asked why didn’t BCPS take some time and not rush to a decision.
    Dance said he understands the emotions and passions that parents are feeling about this decision.
    “I know it is tough. It’s going to be the same emotions (whether it is now or a few years from now) as we look at any transition,” Dance said. “I don’t want you to think I’m not sympathetic. I do understand the emotions on anything  like this.”
    Crystal Chamberlain, PTSA President at Holabird Middle School, offered another point of view, saying she welcomes Holabird becoming a magnet school and that students who live in the neighborhood will be eligible and won’t have to apply to get into the magnet program.
    “I deeply understand what the Eastwood family is going through, but I ask  you to make your decision based on the community as a whole,” Chamberlain said to Dance.