Proceed with caution when considering what, if any, school to close, residents of the upper part of the county told the board of education in a public meeting here last week. About 200 people crammed into the Galena Middle School cafeteria, a standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into the hallway. They heard Superintendent Barbara Wheeler and her assistants, Mary Etta Reedy and Fay Miller, spell out the advantages and disadvantages of four working proposals.
Schools in Galena, Rock Hall, Chestertown or Millington could be closed, depending on which option the board selects. There also are proposals to reconfigure elementary schools to include fifth grade, as is the standard throughout most of Maryland, and to consolidate all three middle schools into Kent County Middle School. Other pieces of the puzzle are locations for the Intensive Behavior & Academic Learning Center, commonly referred to as the “alternative school,” and the school administration’s central office. The alternative school currently is located in Rock Hall Middle School, which would be closed under one of the scenarios.
The central office at 215 Washington Ave., Chestertown, is in the process of being declared surplus and deeded to the county. President Michael Harvey said the board intended to take action during a special meeting on February 16, after additional public hearings in Rock Hall, Chestertown and Millington. He told the gathering that the action could include not closing any school. That is what happened in 2002 when the board ultimately voted down the administration’s proposal to close Rock Hall Elementary School and create a pre-K to grade eight school in Rock Hall.
School closing or consolidation is being driven by two factors: an economic crisis that has gripped the entire country and dwindling public school enrollment in Kent County. While funding is a key issue, it is not the only issue. Kent is not meeting Critical Middle Report program requirements in foreign language, health education, technology and some of the fine arts. Kent is not in compliance with the Code of Maryland Regulations, essentially breaking state education law.
Galena Middle School teacher Chris Hemstetter said there are six untenured teachers in her school who are worried about job security. Galena Mayor Harry Pisapia and others questioned the philosophy behind closing a school in areas where there has been demonstrated growth. Pisapia said “it would really be insane” to close either Galena Middle School or Millington Elementary School.