Baltimore County concerned over middle school enrollment

TOWSON, Md. - Baltimore County Public Schools are losing students once they get to middle school.

While enrollment is on the rise at the elementary level, as well as at the high school level, the opposite is happening in the county’s middle schools, Baltimore County schools superintendent S. Dallas Dance said Thursday.

“Parents are pulling students out in middle school, then putting them back in for high school,” Dallas told representatives of community associations from around Baltimore County at a meeting in Cockeysville.

It was the first such meeting for Dance, who is beginning his third year with the school system.  He said he plans to have similar meetings once a month.

“I want to have a two-way conversation, not a one-way dialogue,” Dance said after the meeting.

With around 110,000 students, Baltimore County has the 25th largest public school district in the country. Dallas told the crowd one of his plans for the upcoming school year is to take a three-pronged approach to the county’s 30 middle schools.

Dance said he wants to examine the middle schools’ academics to make sure sixth graders’ coursework is rigorous enough. The district has beefed up academics for fourth and fifth graders in recent years, he said.

“We want to make sure we’re not losing that rigor,” Dance said.

The superintendent said he also wants to work on extracurricular opportunities for middle school students and ways to make the transition to middle school easier.

“Think about how it was when you went to middle school—and multiply that by 100,” he said.

Mycheal Dickerson, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools, said the district doesn’t know exactly how many parents are electing to remove their children from the school system after fifth grade, or how many of them return for high school.

“We know it’s happening because of the enrollment in our middle schools,” Dickerson said. “It drops significantly. Then in high school, it increases again.”

Overcrowding in elementary schools remains an issue, Dickerson said. Overcrowded high schools are also a problem.

“And middle schools are under-enrolled,” Dickerson said. “We know a lot of people come back for extracurriculars at the high schools.”

Dickerson said the district will be focusing on getting information out to parents about programs available at the middle school level.

“It really is going to be a public relations campaign,” he said.

Marshall Scott, assistant superintendent for Baltimore County middle schools, speculated the enrollment decline at the middle school level is due to a lack of awareness about programs available, as well as fear.

“Middle school is scary,” Scott said. “As a parent myself, it is extremely scary.”

Scott said he’d like to see some more bridge programs for fourth and fifth grade students to better prepare them for middle school.

“We need to start a conversation in fourth grade,” Scott said.

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