Are We Getting a New Elementary School?

by Dan Hoffman

The White Flint/North Bethesda area will be undergoing a major development and revitalization process. The changes outlined in the White Flint Sector Plan (WFSP), will bring new business, retail, entertainment, and residents into the local community. As such, the development is required to provide a new elementary school to service the increase in school-age children. The Rocking Horse Center (formerly the elementary school for RCA communities), has recently been named as the ‘recommended’ location for the new WFSP elementary school by the Montgomery County Planning Board, the arm of local government in charge of planning the development with its stakeholders (other county agencies, White Flint Developers, Local Residents, etc.).

The recent recommendation is a significant and extremely positive milestone for RCA. However, there are still a number of challenges ahead, as the recommendation needs to be approved by the Montgomery County Council before Rocking Horse Center is named as ‘the’ elementary school for the WFSP.

The RCA has been leading the effort to reopen the Rocking Horse Center as an elementary school. The RCA has had a representative representing them on the White Flint Citizens Advisory Board and Steering Committee. This group of area residents advised Montgomery County Planning Staff on development issues, and the RCA has worked extremely hard to have the Rocking Horse location, first, considered (RCA lies outside the formal WFSP boundaries), and second, named as the recommended location for the new WFSP elementary school.

There are a number of benefits that come from RCA land having its own elementary school. These benefits include: a new, modern, spacious facility for our children, a greater sense of community for the neighborhood, the ability to walk our children to school, the availability of a community meeting place and an increased appeal to our homes. However, the primary reason the RCA is pushing for the reopening of the school is to ensure our children are provided adequate school facilities. The RCA is currently served by Viers Mill Elementary, an overcrowded school, enrolling more and more students each year. The school, although staffed with a wonderful faculty, has exceeded its capacity by 180+ students with no confirmed plans by the County to add much needed additional classroom and activity space. The school already has ten portable classrooms, and space on the site is limited.

For RCA residents that do not have school-age children, the benefits are just as great. Neighborhoods with elementary schools are highly sought out by prospective homeowners. Our neighborhood would thus benefit by becoming a much more marketable, desirable location, increasing our property values along the way. Making the neighborhood a desir able place for families also increases neighborhood stability, by encouraging longterm occupation by neighbors who have a vested interest in the success of the neighborhood.

There is a possibility that because the elementary school would service the White Flint development, the school would need to feed into the Walter Johnson (WJ) High School cluster. However, this is unknown at this point and remains to be a decision by the Montgomery County School Board. A significant portion of RCA-land already attends the WJ cluster. Given the capacity issues facing school clusters across the county, the RCA will continue to work hard to ensure all school clusters have adequate capacity. The RCA is actively advocating for additional school capacity for all county schools. Given these challenges and the building moratoriums being put in place due to school overcrowding, the County is facing an increasingly loud chorus of school construction advocates. In fact the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board recently sent a letter to the County Executive regarding the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) stating, “it is time to rededicate ourselves to the notion that education comes first in this county, because there is no greater single area of need as we develop this CIP.”

The RCA is very active in supporting the reopening of Rocking Horse and getting the White Flint Sector Plan approved by the Council. To do this we need your continued support. The RCA has convened a special committee focused on getting Rocking Horse reopened. The activities this committee is undertaking require volunteers. If you’re interested in helping out, contact RCA Board member Dan Hoffman (301-938-7494) for more information.