The county board of education voted Monday to move Northwood High School students to the former Woodward High School building in 2023-24, but before the vote Montgomery County Public School officials acknowledged shortcomings in communication with community members about options for Northwood students.
Students from Northwood in Silver Spring will temporarily move to Rockville’s Woodward campus while their home school is being renovated. Details about transportation and how to renovate the school to accommodate program needs will be decided at a later time.
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Northwood community members voiced concern about a lack of transparency and outreach to the families the relocation will affect.
The lapse in communication caused many Northwood families to feel their opinions went unheard on critical issues such as the importance of ensuring reasonable transportation, accommodations for athletes and space to facilitate the school’s arts programming.
“This process has suffered from a lack of communication with the Northwood community,” Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations Northwood Cluster Coordinator Michelle Moller said. “We know that there will be growing pains during this period of rapid development … but we must also consider the impact that our decisions will have on our children’s health, safety and academic lives.”
Fellow Northwood Cluster Coordinator Henriot St. Gerard said the community was “left out of the decision.”
School system Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said “in hindsight” he agreed the school system “needed to spend more time laying out the steps” taken to examine sites considered for holding facilities.
The school board hired an outside consultant to review options and didn’t receive the report until two weeks ago, constraining community outreach efforts, Zuckerman said.
“That process, had we done more front loading to explain what it was, the community engagement feeling would have felt different,” Zuckerman said, adding he believes all Northwood programs can be accommodated at Woodward. “We couldn’t come close at any of the commercial space we considered or if students remained on site.”
District 2 board member Rebecca Smondrowski, the lone vote opposing the resolution, said she was “very troubled” by the lack of communication and outreach and said she would have preferred using a different location for a holding school.
Some board members argued renovating a commercial space into a school facility would be too costly, competing with other needed projects.
“It’s really easy to do what we always do because we’re used to doing it,” Smondrowski said. “I personally feel we had a really good opportunity … to do something different and creative. These projects won’t get cheaper and it will always compete with other projects, and I feel like there was an opportunity here we could have taken advantage of.”
Seth Adams, the school system’s Division of Construction director said project leaders will “find a way to make Woodward a fantastic facility” that meets Northwood students’ needs.
“Our goal is to make it a positive experience that hopefully they’ll be sad to leave,” he said
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org