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New Middle School Proposed for Bethesda-Chevy Chase | Schools

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New Middle School Proposed for Bethesda-Chevy Chase

The Gazette reports that a new middle school could be built in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area if a recommendation by Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast is included in the school system's 2013-2018 Capital Improvements Program next fall.

The new school is needed to relieve overcrowding at the area's existing middle school and elementary schools, and to streamline sixth grade, which is now offered at two elementary schools as well as the area's middle school, Weast wrote in a recommendation released today.

The announcement comes in a school year when staff cuts at elementary schools have resulted in abbreviated curriculum offerings for sixth graders and led parents to question whether an elementary school is a suitable setting for students typically considered middle schoolers.

Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase are the only elementary schools in the county that offer sixth grade.

Weast echoed parents' concerns in his recommendation. He wrote that while sixth graders at elementary schools academically perform on par with their middle school peers, "middle school provides a more appropriate environment for students to develop confidence, competence, and independent decision-making skills in a culture that supports and challenges students academically and encourages them to explore their interests."

Despite problems associated with keeping sixth grade in the two elementary schools, Weast advised against moving about 200 sixth graders to Westland Middle School, which is expected to exceed its capacity of 1,063 students by 314 in the 2014-2015 school year. The school is now under capacity by about 20 students, according to preliminary enrollment counts.

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster is among the most crowded in the school system. All seven of its elementary schools were over capacity during the 2009-2010 school year. The most crowded elementary school in the cluster, North Chevy Chase, has close to twice as many students as its capacity limit, 230. The school has 427 students, according to preliminary counts.

The new middle school is intended to ease overcrowding at all the cluster's schools, in addition to providing more educational opportunities and a more mature social environment for sixth graders.

Weast did not include a completion date or cost for the middle school, but did lay out a timeline that would bring a plan to the table by October 2011, when the next six-year Capital Improvements Program will be up for approval.

Early next year, Weast will establish a committee of Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster representatives and facilities management staff to identify a school site in the northern or eastern section of the cluster. In spring, another committee will conduct a feasibility study and determine the project's cost.

The recommendation calls for a review of the sixth grade curriculum at elementary schools, to ensure it is up to par until the sixth grades can be moved to a middle school.

Weast also will ask for additions at Bethesda, North Chevy Chase and Rosemary Hills elementary schools. Those additions were previously recommended by committees that conducted feasibility and capacity studies at the schools.

A similar study was conducted at Chevy Chase Elementary School, but Weast and the study review committee have recommended against an addition there because the school property is among the smallest in the county, with little room for expansion, and enrollment is projected to remain close to capacity.

Weast's recommendations for addressing overcrowding in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster is one of two opinions released Friday that are part of the superintendent's requests for the 2013-2018 Capital Improvements Program. His full recommendation for the six-year development cycle is due out Oct. 28.

The superintendent also released a recommendation for addressing low enrollment at Poolesville and Monocacy elementary schools, in northern Montgomery County. That plan calls for Monocacy to remain open, despite previous proposals to consolidate the schools because of the declining enrollment at Monocacy.

The two recommendation papers were published in advance of the full Capital Improvements Program recommendation in order to give community members additional time to consider and review the proposal.