UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and the High Point High School community can agree on one thing: overcrowding needs to be addressed now. While the community and PGCPS may disagree on when High Point should be renovated or replaced, the two agree that something has to be done to help the […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and the High Point High School community can agree on one thing: overcrowding needs to be addressed now.
While the community and PGCPS may disagree on when High Point should be renovated or replaced, the two agree that something has to be done to help the school either cope with or address the overutilization of its current building.
That was the basis for the community conversation held last week on Sept. 12 at High Point. Staff from the PGCPS Capital Improvement Department met with residents and families from impacted regions such as Beltsville, Greenbelt and Hyattsville and from Parkdale High School to talk about how best to address overcrowding in northern Prince George’s County.
“If we just look at the last seven years we’ve had a huge increase in elementary school students, a large increase in middle school students and an increase as well in high school students,” said Rhianna McCarter, the PGCPS planning and school boundaries specialist. “We already have the growth at the elementary level, and that’s coming in to the middle schools and in a couple more years it’s going to hit high schools and that’s were we’re projecting a 3,000 student increase among the seven high schools.”
A new High Point is at least five years away, and Elizabeth Chaisson, a PGCPS planner, said it could be pushed back further due to budget constraints. A new Northern Area high school is planned for the Langley Park area and will likely be built before a new High Point, but McCarter said neither new school will address the over crowding happening now.
McCarter pointed to a growing student population in the surrounding areas, which includes high schools such as High Point, Northwestern, Bladensburg, Parkdale, Laurel, DuVal and Eleanor Roosevelt. The school system has seen a large wave – a 34 percent increase – of elementary-age students enter into PGCPS from 2010 to 2017. At the same time there was a nearly 24 percent increase in middle school students and an 11 percent increase in high school students. PGCPS knows its current schools do not have the capacity to accommodate those students when they reach high school.
“Right now there is a disparity in the enrollment between North and South County. We have plenty of available seats in the south, but we’re limited in the north,” Ronald Kauffman, a planning consultant for PGCPS, said.
According to PGCPS data, by 2023 Bladensburg High School could be at 141 percent utilization while High Point could reach 153 percent. Northwestern, Laurel, Parkdale and Roosevelt are projected to all reach more than 115 percent capacity as well.
To address the overcrowding, PGCPS said it is looking at a number of potential solutions, partially at High Point. Those strategies could include staggered or split schedules, adding portable classrooms, adjusting school boundaries and moving English Language Learners to evening programs.
“We’re not looking to just one (of these),” Kauffman said. “We’re looking to do two or three or more. We’re thinking really outside of the box to move kids around – considering setting up special programs or even an online program.”
For the upcoming school year, starting in fall 2018, the school system is suggesting adding portable classrooms at Parkdale and Bladensburg high schools. PGCPS is also considering changing boundaries near Chillum to reroute approximately 250 students from High Point to Northwestern High School.
However, Patsy Conner, a science teacher at High Point, expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the plan PGCPS laid before the community. She said rerouting 200-300 kids was “an insult,” as it would not adequately address the overcrowding at the high school. High Point was built for around 2,100 students and has somewhere near 2,700, according to the principal.
Conner also said she wanted to know why the school system had not prioritized High Point higher.
“Two hundred kids is an insult,” she said. “You’re going to make the recommendations and you’re hearing us now. I’ve been here 20 years and we’ve been made promises and we’ve put time into studying this, many, many hours. So I want to know why we’re being pushed back.”
That was a sentiment shared by a number of the school faculty present at the meeting, including the Athletic Director Shirley Diggs, who questioned why the school was being punished for taking care of their building.
“It’s just embarrassing to our children,” she said. “And I know that there are schools worse than us, but maybe it is because our custodial staff and our building supervisor took good care of it, so now we’re getting paid negatively because they kept this building standing.”
Chaisson emphasized there are indeed other schools throughout the county that are worst off than High Point and in more need of repair. She also noted that expanding the school will not address all the overcrowding issues.
The conversation about solution to North County overcrowding will continue throughout the year. The next meeting is anticipated for the first week of October.