HCPSS Superintendent Redistricting Plan for High Schools – The Data

I have been reviewing the information provided in the HCPSS Superintendent Area Adjustment Plan and thought I would share some of my early findings and questions in this document. I am starting with high schools (I will have follow up articles related the the middle schools and Elementary schools when I have more time). I am going to detail some the items noted in the Executive Summary (capacity, equity and HS #13) of the proposed plan and some other items on my “to look at” list.

Number of students moving:

According to the document there are 2,851 high school students that will be reassigned in this plan. According to the 2019 Feasibility Study the estimated total number of students in high school (for 2020-2021) is expected to be 18,335. So just over 15.5% of all high school kids would be reassigned in this plan (almost 1 in every 7 students). That seems like a lot but it has been a while since a full redistricting plan was implemented and maybe that is just the number needed this time around.

Capacity / Overcrowding:

Let’s first start with this chart

If we do nothing (per the chart) we will have 5 school over 110% capacity and 2 additional schools at or over 100% capacity. This plans changes that making only 2 school over 110% capacity and 8 schools at or over 100% capacity.

This on paper looks like an even distribution of students throughout the county. I will note that 2 schools (Marriotts Ridge and Wilde Lake) are both listed right at that magic 110% capacity number that would move them from green to red.

Equity by addressing the distribution of students participating in the Free and Reduced price meals program (FARMs) across schools to the extent feasible.

This issue has been discussed a lot recently…especially after the council press release and the Council Resolution that was submitted. How did the schools do with this objective in the plan for high schools…let’s start with the chart:

The Base numbers (or if we do nothing plan) say:

  • 4 schools have more than 33% of students receiving FARMs
  • 3 schools have less than 10% of students receiving FARMs

The Proposed numbers (in this plan) say:

  • 4 schools have more than 33% of students receiving FARMs
  • 3 schools have less than 10% of students receiving FARMs

To be fair…here are some items of significance:

  • Wild Lake has the highest drop falling from 46% to 38%
  • Atholton gains the highest number going from 10% up to 25% (I have more to say about that below)
  • Long Reach drops from 47% to 42%
  • River Hill gains from <5% to 5%
  • All of the other numbers vary by less than 5% at any one school

This was without question going to be the most difficult part of the plan to deal with for the school system. The development patterns and policies have helped lead to the concentration of low income families in certain areas of this county and it is very difficult for the school system to redistrict their way out of that concentration. That being said…when you look at the data…not sure you can say this issue has been fully addressed yet. I wonder what comments we will get from the County Councilmembers going forward?

Rockburn Township

I could not look at the high school data and not mention what happened with the Rockburn Township area…especially after that flyer and the responses from principals and the Superintendent.

It looks like this plan has the area around Rockburn Township moving from Howard HS to Long Reach HS (polygons 86, 87, 1086, 1087, 2087, 3087 and 4087).

I can say as a parent of a kid that graduated from Long Reach High School…I LOVE that school and glad my kid went there for four years.

High School #13

While a boundary plan for High School #13 was not part of this plan…the future school was mentioned in this way “Plan ahead for the High School #13 redistricting by minimizing double moves as much as possible”.

We know what has been suggested in the past:

If that stays the plan…it appears as if 9 polygons will be tagged with moving twice:

  • Moving to Oakland Mills and then moving to HS #13 (polygons 35, 1035, 2035, 3035, 4035, and 1082)
  • Moving to Hammond and then moving to HS #13 (polygons 266, 33 and 1033)

Of course all of this is dependent on the boundary plan for HS #13 not changing from what has been proposed.

Atholton HS boundary lines:

Of all of the changes to boundary lines for high schools this is the one that baffles me. Here are the proposed lines for Atholton HS (see dark green areas on the map):

I made the comment recently on a social media platform that the boundary lines for Atholton HS looks very much like some of the congressional districts here in Maryland. I am really hoping to hear more about why this is the plan for that school. Visually it does not look like keeping a community together in a school. Visually it appears that Atholton had the most dramatic changes.

I am going to tell you when I saw this map and then looked at the numbers in the plan…the first thing that went through my head was that this was proposed to show what school boundaries would look like if the school system made a significant effort in distributing students on FARMs equitably throughout the school system. Maybe I am way off base…but I have say it did cross my mind…especially after looking at the changes noted in the chart earlier in this document changing Atholton from 10% to 25% students receiving FARMs.

I hope my first thought is wrong and that there is a better explanation to this boundary plan for that school. I hope to hear more about it in the coming weeks and months. I think of all of the plans submitted this one for this school may need to greatest explanation to residents (in my opinion).

Know that I have much more data to review and some of that may change some of my opinions and comments above…but these are some of the notable things I have found up to this point.

That is all I have for this morning. Going to have some more coffee  and then head out to the Crab Feast this afternoon. That should make for a fun day.

Everyone enjoy your weekend. I may have more data articles related to this plan over the next week or so depending on my schedule.

Scott E

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  1. A few years back I recall a wise school board member request that students not be called FARMS, but rather students receiving FARMs. I think we should restore that terminology in all written and oral communication.


  2. Not a rub against the author but would it be too much to ask to get a map that overlays the streets to the zones?


  3. Noticeable the two areas in CHS district that screamed loudest in 2017 (and threatened law suits) Dunloggin and Centennial Overlook/polygon 147 were not redistricted.


  4. Does anyone have any insight into why Atholton High School seems to historically been subject to such very large changes in their attendance area? I Have looked but I haven’t been able to find the articles from I believe it was early 2000’s maybe late 1990s but I thought Atholton was almost completely redistricted with all new kids coming in and all the existing students leaving? Does anyone remember this better or have any clarification? Someone had posted that 600 some other time and students or 42% of the school is slated to be redistricted per this plan.


    • Atholton because of it’s central location has faced this change every time the county has opened a new high school in the county. In the Late 90s/early 2000s, when Reservoir opened, Atholton lost their traditional southwestern corner of the county.
      Between the 2000-2001, and 2001-2002 school year, Atholton lost all their freshmen from the Reservoir section of the county, unless they had older siblings to carpool them. Those students who were still Juniors and Seniors at Atholton in the affected Reservoir district were still able to finish out at Atholton and had access to busing.

      Someone should probably reach out to Ellen Giles if she’s willing, since she was a concerned member of the PTA at the time.

      Surprisingly, the group of Atholton students near Hammond High have been a traditional population for Atholton, because those students are centered along Gormon Road. To send them to Hammond High is a much longer trip. And indeed, prior to the Reservoir redistricting, those students went to Atholton anyway.


      • I graduated from Atholton in 2005, during the whole Reservoir redistricting hubbub. Living off Johns Hopkins/Gorman Road, I was always mystified that we were bussed past Hammond (which was right behind us as the crow flies) to Atholton, which was far more central columbia. Literally two high schools were closer (Res and Hammond).

        That said, I adored the school, and apparently my neighborhood off Hunters Way always went to that school, but it seemed funny then, and seems even stranger now.

        The new polygon line are horribly gerrymandered…..and yet STILL Gorman is sent to that school. Why?? It feels like they’re going out of their way to keep that area at Atholton. Atholton should just be all of Cedar Lane from Hawthorne up past the APL…


      • I’d like to see an algorithm developed to draw boundary maps based of a series of weights (distance to school, income, school capacity available, etc) where the general populace would vote on the value of the weights. At least this way we could take politicians with their self interests and developers out of the equation.


  5. River Hill gains from <5% to 5%
    All of the other numbers vary by less than 5% at any one school

    That could be a whopping 1% while their immediate neighbor to the northeast
    has a huge impact.
    Frankly, I'm left wondering why they were protesting yesterday at River Hill.


    • Even the overall change in the numbers is not that significant, if you look into the details, you might get your answer.

      1) River Hill is an under-capacity school, the proposal wants to move 478 students out and bring in 741 students in that is a net gain of 229 students. The total turnover of students will be 1229 students!! That is a rate of over 80% of the school total capacity. This is the highest turnover school in the county as proposed!!!
      The polygons that they propose to move from River Hill to Wilde Lake live about 1.5-3.5miles away from River Hill.

      2) The proposal will TRIPLE the distance to about 6-9 miles away and increase commute times in the morning and for after school activities.

      3. The Proposal mentions moving 513 students from Atholton to River Hill. The polygons that they propose to move live farther away to River Hill than communities closer to River Hill High School


  6. So with all of this, would anyone like to take an educated guess as to the chances of these proposals actually passing and getting put into place? And your reasoning behind your answers?


  7. Scott,
    The superintendent or board plans for redistricting should focus on forecasting capacity requirements based upon population densities, maintaining cohesiveness of ‘community’ schools and expanding school capacities to meet the needs of each community. They should stay away from social engineering and /or economic equity justice and justifying meddling with boundaries based upon the number and distribution of FARM students. As a Black American who grew up in a segregated urban school system in the 1950s in New Jersey and reflecting back upon the impact of ‘busing’ on my inner-city community, it was a net negative. Within 8 years the black community was decimated due to ‘well meaning’ but mis-guided programs of the Great Society, such as busing to achieve equity. Separate but equal philosophy did not work because segregationist did not want it to work and the court did not know of any other way to force state and local governments to allocate resources to achieve maintain separation and actually provide equal resources. The underlying motivation was absent and busing was the only immediate way to move towards the ruling. On the surface our community saw that as a win but as children of the period it was a stressful experience for many years and by choice, we rebelled being forced to attend schools outside of our community. What should have happened was to have the local school board rebalance the investments into shore up or provide parity all schools in the district rather than short sighted moving percentages of kids from one neighborhood to the next. There isn’t any forced segregation in Howard County by local statute, real estate manipulations, Jim Crow codes, etc. as there was after Emancipation. Howard’s social economic mix is based upon income, cost of housing and conversion of former farmland to expanding higher end housing development. Consequently, individuals have freedom of choice and no matter what school your child attends, she or he will receive a high-quality education. Maintaining a sense of community is essential for residents and the board should not try to disrupt that dynamic for “politically motivated” reasons.

    In addition, the use of FARM stats is questionable at best since school districts in this state do not verify family incomes. FARM income eligibility is based upon self-declaration but without the requirement to show proof. I have worked with districts where students are classified as FARM eligible yet the family incomes far exceed federal guidelines. Increase in FARM percentages are the gateway to qualifying for more federal aid such as E-Rate program reimbursements and other programs more so than anything else. Consequently, invest in those community schools where capacity and instruction support are in greatest need long-term rather in a short-term fix of busing. The influx of legitimate “FARM” families is a testament to the overall attractiveness of our schools and the desire of families in underserved communities outside of Howard to get a better education. The reality is you live where you can afford to live and where you choose to live for personal reasons. However, the facilities in Hammond and Wilde Lake should be equivalent to River Hill or Reservoir with the appropriate instructional mix no matter the surrounding economic community. These realities should be the focus in their immediate or adjacent geographic locations, not shipping children based upon FARM percentages.
    Lastly, coming from NJ with more than 635 school districts, the Athlon district appears to be a classic case of gerrymandering if there ever was one. It would be interesting to see how this district developed since its creation.


    • Living in the Atholton district, I can say I somewhat agree with you on the gerrymandering, but only in regards to one region, the part that is in the south east, it’s clearly closer to Hammond, and not even connected to Atholton geographically. That specific area is new development land (past 20 or so years). I would speculate that Hammond was closer to full capacity than Atholton HS at the time and the land developers lobbied for a better school district for higher home prices and more profit. That said, I can’t imagine that region could possibly stay with Atholton when the new HS #13 is built, and it shouldn’t. My major issue with the new redistricting map is Atholton is gerrymandered at a level unseen before, retaining that south east region, and obtaining a new east region on the other side of route 29. Yes I’ve heard this used to be part of Atholton, but 29 is now a major highway, and as far as I’m concerned that area is not part of the local community. I would like to see Howard county allow open enrollment to any school as long as the school is undercapacity. With preference given to Farm students. I would also like to see Howard county expand the public bus system (not school buses), to increase mobility for all, but primarily to give kids a way to travel to those schools. As a resident of Atholton, I am tired of redistricting plans time and time again, planning on breaking up Atholton, this sort of uncertainty causes undo stress on a community. I hear alot of complaints from River Hill parents about this plan, but not enough from Atholton parents. Atholton is clearly going to bear the brunt of this plan, as our community gets diced up by butchers. And I say that lightly.


      • Correction, the Eastern region proposed in the new redistricting plan was never part of Atholton. Not should it be with route 29 dividing the populous and the increased bus times students would have .


    • I completely agree with Stephen. Segregation based on income is not something that the school system should try to solve. It can’t solve this in the long-term anyway. I suspect most, if not all projections will prove wrong in 3 years. And they will start this process again (if it is approved this time). Redistricting frequently will only benefit developers!!!


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