If The Budget Is Approved, Three Schools Will Have Additional Classrooms Built
If Superintendent George Arlotto’s budget proposal passes, that will mean big changes for three Pasadena schools.
Arlotto recommended a $1.19 billion operating budget for the 2019 Fiscal Year. While those funds are spread across Anne Arundel County Public Schools, three Pasadena-area schools would be allocated funds for construction projects.
High Point Elementary is already underway with its $4.5 million construction project, which will be conducted in two phases. The first phase, set to open this Labor Day, will add 28 classrooms, a kitchen, a cafeteria and two music rooms.
“This school has been over capacity for years, so certainly the new building is going to alleviate overcapacity issues,” High Point Elementary Principal Timothy Merritt said.
In addition, the new instructional wing will move away from the school’s open-space design and introduce students to a four-wall learning environment with natural lighting.
“In those open-space designs, there’s a lot of background noise you’re hearing from other classrooms. It’s not to the point that it’s loud, but you can hear it,” Merritt said. “This is all they’ve known. It’ll be a great enhancement to student concentration and attentiveness.”
Merritt said he is most excited about “going back to a traditional classroom learning environment with natural lighting” and that every room will have large windows that welcome natural light.
“There’s a lot of research on the impact natural lighting has on student learning but also adults’ work productivity, mood, everything,” Merritt said.
The second phase of High Point’s construction will begin this summer and is set to finish Labor Day 2019. It includes a new gym and remodeling the existing building.
Solley Elementary School is also allocated funds for six new classrooms in Arlotto’s proposal. These classrooms would be for first- and second-grade students, which is where most of Solley’s overcapacity classes are, said Solley Elementary Principal Jeffery Haynie.
“I’m thankful we were included, because the growth around here is unbelievable,” Haynie said. “I was just thankful that we were in this budget proposal so we could hopefully alleviate some of the stress throughout the course of the school and have more space for our kids to be able to learn in.”
There won’t be a set date for construction until the budget is approved by the county council.
“Between our school and Marley, we have almost 1,700 kids between the two of us,” Haynie said. “They’re big schools, and we need more space.”
In 2007, the state mandated that kindergarten go from half-day to full-day. Where one classroom used to house 20 kindergarteners in the morning and 20 in the afternoon, for example, it now has to house all 40 at once, Bob Mosier, chief communications officer of AACPS, explained.
“When you make kindergarten full-day, now you need classrooms because they’re there at the same time,” Mosier said. “We have spent the last 10 years going through and adding additions to schools to address that issue.”
This year, it’s Riviera Beach Elementary’s turn to get additional kindergarten classrooms. The school is slated to get three kindergarten classrooms and one pre-K classroom.
“What I understand, the addition to really alleviate is the current environment we’re in right now,” said Jason Anderson, principal of Riviera Beach Elementary.
At Riviera Beach, a lot of instruction is taking place at tables in the hallway, Anderson said, and there are services that need to be provided outside the regular education classroom.
“We have folks, like school psychologists, who need to work with students in environments we don’t presently have right now,” Anderson said. “And we need areas for our cultural arts, such as our band and strings, and those types of opportunities for kids.”
Anderson said he put together a leadership team of kindergarten teachers, special education teachers, reading specialists and cultural arts teachers to start conversations about what issue the addition needs to address.
“We have really outstanding architects and engineers that work with the school district, but I don’t think anyone really understands the educational environment better than the actual practitioners that are in the room each day,” Anderson said. “We can help create an efficient learning environment where we don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. What we need is space to meet the needs of our students.”
Part of this budget includes adding “190.7 classroom teaching positions and would provide every school system employee with a compensation increase,” according to an AACPS press release. Of these teaching positions, 106 would address enrollment increases and 30 would help reduce class sizes.
“What parents in Pasadena, like parents across the county, will see if this budget is funded is an increase in the number of classroom teachers, an increase in the number of staff available to address social and emotional issues that students experience,” Mosier said.
In addition, $1 million is set to continue the expansion of the fiber ring, which increases high-speed internet access, Mosier said. Along with this are funds for two additional support technicians who would each be responsible for keeping the technology up and running at a handful of schools.
The final budget will be approved no later than June 30.