Following two community input sessions with families about potential small-scale boundary adjustments for some middle school students, Wicomico Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donna C. Hanlin will present her recommendations to the Wicomico County Board of Education for discussion and a vote at its Feb. 13 meeting.
The boundary adjustments under discussion would be for middle schools only; students would continue to attend the high school to which they are currently assigned. With the relocation of Bennett Middle School to Fruitland, these two areas are closer to Salisbury Middle and Wicomico Middle schools. The students in these two areas would benefit from a much shorter commute to their newly assigned school.
One proposed change involves the middle school for students who reside in an area at the northwestern edge of the Bennett Middle attendance area. This area is located on the other side of the Wicomico River from the rest of the Bennett Middle attendance area, and is situated much closer to Salisbury Middle. Approximately 90 students live in this area.
The other proposed change involves the middle school for students who reside in an area at the northeastern edge of the Bennett Middle attendance area. This area is bordered on the west by Snow Hill Road, on the south by the Salisbury Bypass, and on the north by the existing Wicomico Middle attendance area boundary. Approximately 60 students live in this area.
The proposed boundary adjustments are designed to ease overcrowding at Bennett Middle School, which is anticipated to increase to an enrollment well over capacity for the next several years. While Bennett Middle is near capacity now, Salisbury Middle and Wicomico Middle are both under capacity and could serve more students. The adjustments would ease the enrollment impact on Bennett Middle while also improving instruction for students by creating more balanced teacher-student ratios. Due to its larger student population, Bennett Middle’s student-teacher ratio is much higher than the average class sizes at both Salisbury Middle and Wicomico Middle. “These boundary changes would have a positive effect on instruction and school climate for all students,” Dr. Hanlin said.
The Superintendent and her team explored many different approaches to relieving overcrowding at the middle school level, and developed these recommendations to impact the smallest possible number of students and families. Dr. Hanlin shared her recommendations with families who would be affected by the proposed boundary adjustments in two meetings, one at Pemberton Elementary on Jan. 25 and one at Prince Street Elementary on Jan. 29. All families with students who would be affected by the boundary adjustments under consideration were invited to the meetings by letter and phone calls.
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Members of her team, including principals of the schools involved, attended the two community input sessions to answer any questions parents might have. Board of Education members also attended to hear the public discussion. In response to a question raised during one of the community input sessions, Dr. Hanlin wants parents to know that all three of these middle schools have very similar scores on the PARCC assessments.
The recommendation is for all current 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-Grade students in the affected areas to attend either Salisbury Middle or Wicomico Middle starting with next school year. The school system already planned to grant special permission to any current 7th-Graders wishing to continue to attend Bennett Middle next year, if the family provides transportation. Based on feedback received from families at the two meetings, the Superintendent is now going to adjust her recommendation to also grant special permission to any current 6th-Graders in those two areas, if the family provides transportation. The Superintendent understands the impact of multiple transitions on students and this modification to her initial recommendation addresses that concern.
One other middle school change could also relieve some of the overcrowding at Bennett Middle while providing an exciting new educational opportunity for middle school students. Dr. Hanlin has proposed creating a Project Lead the Way Gateway Program at Salisbury Middle to serve middle school students from throughout Wicomico County who are interested in engineering and STEM careers. Students could continue this STEM focus in the high school Project Lead the Way Program offered as part of the school system’s Career and Technology Education program.
Wicomico County middle school students would apply for the Project Lead the Way Gateway Program, which would enroll 50 6th-Grade students in its first year, then add 50 students each year until it became a 150-student program serving grades 6-8. Students in the middle school Project Lead the Way Gateway Program would attend Salisbury Middle full time.