PGCPS holds public meetings on school boundaries
By Sophie Gorman Oriani
On Nov. 1, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) held the first of five virtual public meetings to discuss proposed changes to school boundaries for the county’s neighborhood schools.
WXY Studio, an urban design, planning and architectural consulting firm, is leading a team of consultants to redraw school boundaries and balance enrollment between neighborhood schools. Changing enrollments have led to some schools being overcrowded, while others are under-enrolled.
Chris Rice, WXY Studio’s planning director, spoke to over 450 attendees, including parents, students, teachers and community members. According to Rice, the main goal of the Comprehensive School Boundary Initiative is to balance school utilization. Currently, fewer than 27% of elementary and K-8 schools, 33% of middle schools and 19% of high schools are utilized at the optimal rate of 80 to 95%.
Rice acknowledged that the full scope of the pandemic’s impacts on the school system are still unknown. Last year’s drop in enrollments has not reversed, he said. Many predicted that this year’s kindergarten class would be very large, due to parents’ delaying enrollment in 2020 because of the pandemic, and choosing, instead, to enroll their children in 2021. The predicted surge in enrollment did not materialize. Rice also pointed out that economic downturns in the future might lead to increased public school enrollment, as parents facing financial hardship are more likely to choose free public education over private school.
The WXY team used computer modeling to create three potential school boundary maps and is now seeking public input on them to develop a single proposal.
As part of the redistricting initiative, all PGCPS sixth graders will be moved from elementary schools to middle or K-8 schools. Other students will be affected, too. According to the boundary initiative scenarios map, each of the three scenarios would impact some College Park and Hyattsville students, though specific impacts vary from one scenario to another.
While all three scenarios keep most College Park elementary students in their current schools, each would move some middle schoolers from Greenbelt Middle School to Buck Lodge, in Adelphi. Some College Park high schoolers would move from Northwestern to Parkdale High School, or vice versa, depending on the scenario.
Cherokee Lane Elementary, which serves College Park Woods families, moved students to St. Mark Catholic Church, in Hyattsville, for the 2021-2022 school year so Cherokee can be rebuilt.
A new high school, which is in the planning phase, would accommodate 2,600 students in the College Park Woods neighborhood.
Councilmembers, Denise Mitchell and Maria Mackie, both of whom represent District 4, oppose the proposed high school because of potential environmental impacts and a possible increase in traffic.
“If we need a new public school built, we can find a place that is more equitable, a better place for the students and closer to where they live,” said Mackie.
For more information, go to pgcps.org/boundary.