James Rada, Jr.
For the first time since the Frederick County Board of Education put off making a decision about whether to close Sabillasville Elementary School (SES), the board discussed the topic during its work session.
Some of the possible ways to keep the school open include:
Using the school as an agricultural center;
Turning it into a magnet school;
Adding career and technology services;
Adding a RISE program to the school; and
Making the school an “open enrollment” school.
Superintendent Theresa Alban cautioned the board in its approach to saving the school. She said during the board’s October work session, “I don’t want to go down the road of ‘let’s find ways to fill up the building.’”
The major problem facing the school is that it has seen declining enrollment. Last year, around 70 students were in a building rated for 160 students.
When the possibility of closing the school was raised last school year, the Sabillasville community rallied to fight the closure. The board relented and decided to address the issue later after examining possible ways to keep the school open and utilize the extra space. The school remains open this school year, but the board’s goal is to make a final decision on what to do by December.
The option of turning Sabillasville into a charter school seemed to be the idea that has the most support among the board.
Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School was considering the property, but Superintendent Theresa Alban said the school is also considering other locations.
However, Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Association, said the community’s concern about the school becoming an existing charter school is “it really doesn’t become a community school at that point because we’re not really being involved in the decisions.”
She said community members and parents are developing the idea of creating a new charter school that would be located at Sabillasville Elementary.
If the board pursues this option, it would take time and raise additional questions of how students would be accepted to attend the school. It would also want to ensure students living in Sabillasville could still remain in their community school.
“The chartering process is quite lengthy and complex,” Board President Brad Young said.
If the school were to become an open-enrollment school, where students from overcrowded schools could attend, those students would come from outside of the Catoctin High School district because all of the schools in Northern Frederick County have excess capacity. This means the transportation costs would increase, and those students would have very long bus rides to and from school.
The board is planning on surveying parents of students in overcrowded schools to see how many of them would be willing to send their students to Sabillasville.
Board documents about the options indicate using the school as an agricultural center has problems. “To operate this center and maintain the elementary school operation would be challenging; it would also not address the dwindling enrollment numbers for SES. This option does not change the deferred maintenance needs,” according to a review of options in a document on the board’s website.
Expanding career and technology programs into the school would require modifying the school without addressing the declining enrollment program.
“I just want to commend everybody for thinking outside the box. The school is really a jewel in your community, and I’m all in favor of keeping community schools as long as we can,” said Board Member Lois Jarman.
The board will take up the issue again this month once it has had time to get feedback from parents in other schools about their interest in sending their students to Sabillasville.