MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight has shared recommendations of new proposed boundaries for the new Gaithersburg elementary school that will be located at Kelley Park.
The proposed boundaries are based on a study that involves all seven elementary schools in the Gaithersburg High School cluster, as well as Forest Oak and Gaithersburg middle schools.
The new elementary school is scheduled to open its doors in August 2022.
Below you will see background on the project, part of the superintendent’s recommendation, maps of the proposed boundaries, and access to the full report, courtesy of MCPS.
On November 26, 2019, the Board of Education authorized a boundary study to determine the service area for Gaithersburg Cluster Elementary School #8 (Kelley Park site) (Resolution No. 583-19). All of the elementary schools in the Gaithersburg Cluster—Gaithersburg, Goshen, Laytonsville, Rosemont, Strawberry Knoll, Summit Hall, and Washington Grove elementary schools—were included in the boundary study.
To evaluate the middle school articulation patterns, the scope of the boundary study also included Forest Oak and Gaithersburg middle schools. No high school boundary changes were included in the study as all of the elementary and middle schools articulate to Gaithersburg High School. See Appendix A for the current articulation charts and area maps.
Through discussions regarding the new Gaithersburg Cluster Elementary School #8, the community and several Board of Education members expressed strong interest that the boundary study be initiated and completed earlier than usual, in advance of the school opening. Based on this input, the Board of Education approved that the boundary study occurs approximately 30 months prior to the opening of the new school. A report was to be issued in fall 2020, with the Board of Education action on the superintendent’s recommendation in March 2021.
Based on this action, the boundary study began as scheduled in February 2020; however, as a result of the COVID-19 health pandemic, the study was paused in March 2020. The process resumed in early October 2020, with virtual meetings.
The COVID-19 health pandemic affected the student enrollment for the 2020–2021 school year, particularly at the elementary school level. Although the recommendation for this boundary study was to have been released in January 2021, based on the impact on student enrollment, the Board of Education approved a delay to the boundary study action until November 2021 (Resolution No. 516-20).
As part of this delay, staff was asked to present the boundary study report on March 9, 2021. The additional time allowed for a review of preliminary student enrollment for the 2021–2022 school year, as well as other relevant student enrollment and capacity information.
My recommendation maintains the current walk areas for the elementary schools in the cluster. It provides compact and contiguous boundaries for all of the schools, except Rosemont Elementary School, which had a noncontiguous service area prior to the boundary study. Also, it will allow students from Washington Grove Elementary School (Zone W2) who previously could not walk to Washington Grove Elementary School to walk to Gaithersburg Elementary School #8. However, these students who previously walked to Forest Oak Middle School, will need to be bused to Gaithersburg Middle School. Students from Rosemont Elementary School (Zones R5 and R6) will be able to walk to Washington Grove Elementary School. By maximizing the number of walkers, the school system minimizes the number of buses used, which reduces the impact on the operating budget and the environment.
Gaithersburg Elementary School #8
The recommended reassignments for this new elementary school will provide a FARMS percentage rate similar to both Gaithersburg and Summit Hall elementary schools. With respect to the geography factor, the recommendation maximizes the number of walkers to the new elementary school, with a contiguous service area. And finally, with this recommendation, capacity will be available during the 6-year planning period.
Gaithersburg Elementary School
Gaithersburg Elementary School has the highest FARMS percentage of the schools in the cluster, with the percentage fairly consistent across the entire service area. In order to advance the demographic factor, it was necessary to reassign student from schools with lower FARMS percentages to Gaithersburg Elementary School in order to reduce the FARMS percentage disparity. The reassignment of students from Strawberry Knoll Elementary School to Gaithersburg Elementary School will address this disparity and reduce the FARMS percentage at Gaithersburg Elementary School.
With respect to the geography factor, the recommendation maintains all the current number of walkers at Gaithersburg Elementary School, provides for a contiguous service area, and reassigns students from Gaithersburg Elementary School who can walk to Gaithersburg Elementary School #8. Finally, with this recommendation, the utilization rate would decrease at Gaithersburg Elementary School through the 6-year planning period.
Rosemont Elementary School
The FARMS percentage for Rosemont Elementary School is in the mid-range compared to the elementary schools in the cluster and will be maintained at this range with the reassignment recommendation. With respect to the geography factor, as noted above, prior to the boundary study, the Rosemont Elementary School service area was noncontiguous, and with this recommendation, the service area is expanded to three noncontiguous areas. With respect to the utilization factor, this recommendation reduces the space deficit at Rosemont Elementary School below its capacity over the 6-year planning period.
Strawberry Knoll Elementary School
Strawberry Knoll Elementary School has the lowest FARMS percentage of the schools included in the staff-developed options, with the demographics fairly consistent across the service area. The recommendation to reassign some students from Strawberry Knoll Elementary School to Gaithersburg Elementary School reduces the disparity in FARMS percentages amongst the schools included in the staff developed options, as well as reduces the overutilization at Strawberry Knoll Elementary School.
With respect to the geography factor, the walk zone is in the center of this service area with zones that are bused to the north and south of the walk area. If all non-walkers to the school were reassigned, non-contiguous service areas would be created.
When considering the utilization factor, similar to Summit Hall Elementary School, the walk zone at Strawberry Knoll Elementary School is almost equivalent to the student capacity of the school. In order to maintain the current number of walkers, the recommendation does not fully address the overutilization at Strawberry Knoll Elementary School. However, as previously stated, future consideration to address any space deficit will be evaluated through the approved Watkins Mill Elementary School Capacity Study, which will explore capacity solutions for the Watkins Mill Cluster, as well as adjacent clusters at the elementary school level.
Summit Hall Elementary School
Summit Hall Elementary School has a high FARMS percentage compared to the other elementary schools in the cluster, with the demographics fairly consistent across the service area. As previously stated, the walk zone for this school is almost equivalent to its capacity.
With respect to the demographic, geography, and utilization factors, this recommendation reassigns all of the non-walkers at Summit Hall Elementary School to either Gaithersburg Elementary School #8 or Rosemont Elementary School. However, due to the demographic consistency throughout the service area, the student reassignments do not significantly reduce the FARMS percentage at Summit Hall Elementary School. The only way to reduce the FARMS percentage further would be to reassign the walkers from this school.
Washington Grove Elementary School
The FARMS percentage for Washington Grove Elementary School is in the mid-range of the elementary schools in the cluster and will be maintained at this range with the reassignment recommendation.
With respect to the geography factor, the recommendation maintains a contiguous service area and reassigns some students who will be able to walk to Gaithersburg Elementary School #8. In addition, some of the Rosemont Elementary School students reassigned to Washington Grove Elementary School who currently are bus riders would become walkers to Washington Grove Elementary School, increasing the number of walkers in the service area. And finally, with respect to the utilization factor, Washington Grove Elementary School will, with this recommendation, have capacity available over the 6-year planning period.
The recommendation provides for a straight articulation for Gaithersburg Elementary School #8 by assigning the entire service area to Forest Oak Middle School. Also, the recommendation reassigns Washington Grove Elementary School to Gaithersburg Middle School.
With this recommendation, the demographic factor is advanced as the FARMS percentage at the two schools remain relatively constant. In regards to the geography factor, the current service areas for the two middle schools are noncontiguous and will remain noncontiguous with this recommendation. There are a small number of Washington Grove Elementary School students who currently walk to Forest Oak Middle School that, when reassigned, will be bused to Gaithersburg Middle School.
As I reviewed all of the staff-developed options, it was clear that a variation of Option 4 would best advance the four policy factors considered during a boundary study process. I could not recommend Options 1, 3, 5, 6, or 7 as the FARMS percentage for Gaithersburg Elementary School, the school with the highest FARMS percentage in the cluster, would increase. While Option 2 did decrease the FARMS percentage at Gaithersburg Elementary School, the decrease was not as significant compared to Option 4.
Addressing the space needs at the elementary school level in the Gaithersburg Cluster, while creating diverse student body populations and ensuring students attend schools close to their home is a complex goal. Board Policy FAA, Educational Facilities Planning, provides a framework to ensure that stakeholders are given an opportunity to share their input to inform my recommendation and ultimately the Board of Education’s decision.
Based on this input, I believe that my recommendation has addressed the goals to create school boundaries that most advance the factors in Board Policy FAA, Educational Facilities Planning. The recommendation reduces the disparity in the FARMS populations among the schools; addresses the facility utilization at the schools while maximizing the number of walkers; and reduces negative transportation impacts on families, resources, and the environment.
The full recommendation can be seen here.
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