Given city's growth, Pointer Ridge parents and supporters push to keep school open


Pointer Ridge Elementary has old bones but is a beloved school in south Bowie (Oct. 26, 2022). Catherine Hollingsworth/The Bowie Sun

As the school system prepares to close Pointer Ridge Elementary School following this school year, parents and others continue to advocate to keep the doors open based on thousands of new homes planned for south Bowie.

Prince George’s County Public Schools data show that Pointer Ridge has been “chronically under-enrolled” for nearly a decade, but Pointer Ridge parents say that the school should remain open due to the quality education and potential growth in enrollment.

Roxy Ndebumadu, the District 4 Bowie City Council member representing south Bowie, said that “once these homes are (done) being built, you're obviously gonna see that uptick.”

Pointer Ridge PTA members and their supporters have urged school officials to consider a more accurate count of new housing along Route 301: Mill Branch and South Lake in south Bowie and Amber Ridge just outside the city limits.

More than 2,700 homes and apartments were planned for south Bowie and Bowie Town Center in 2022, according to a Pointer Ridge PTA analysis. That figure is almost twice the anticipated new housing cited by the school board, the PTA found.

“The community is saying that as you drive down 301, there are new developments that are coming up,” District 5 School Board Member Zipporah Miller told The Bowie Sun Nov. 21. “So they are asking the superintendent and team to look at the numbers again.”

Based on PGCPS data, development in the south Bowie area has not necessarily resulted in substantially increased enrollment. In some instances, PGCPS found, enrollment decreased despite new development near south Bowie.

In addition, the school system found that underutilized schools are costly and the younger population in the Bowie-Mitchellville area has been on the decline.

Prospective homebuyers attend the opening of a model home at South Lake Nov. 5, 2022. Catherine Hollingsworth/The Bowie Sun

Superintendent holds authority to consolidate schools

Miller said that she frequently meets with PGCPS Superintendent Millard House II to express the community’s concerns about the plan to consolidate Pointer Ridge, a move that would send students to two other schools.

As a member of the Bowie community, Miller said, “I don't want to see the school be consolidated.” Echoing the sentiments of Pointer Ridge parents, she added, “I would love for the school to stay open.”

After receiving community input last year, previous schools CEO Monica Goldson, recommended delaying the consolidation. House met with community members Nov. 8 to hear their concerns about the plan.

Asked if there is any chance that Pointer Ridge Elementary would not be consolidated, Miller said that at this point the superintendent is looking to base his decision on the data. “That decision lays squarely with the superintendent,” she said, citing a Maryland law.

Under the state law, county school boards have the power to consolidate schools, except in Prince George’s County where the superintendent holds that authority.

A newly built sold home at South Lake sits vacant Oct. 26, 2022. Catherine Hollingsworth/The Bowie Sun

The future of Pointer Ridge Elementary

If Pointer Ridge is consolidated, students would be split up into two different schools, with 40% of students going to Northview Elementary near Bowie Town Center and 60% of students going to Perrywood Elementary in Largo, according to school board plans.

According to PGCPS, the other two schools will provide safer and newer facilities. Pointer Ridge is currently 52 years old and would require $58 million to modernize the facility to current educational standards, according to a presentation by PGCPS.

Ndebumadu said there is talk of transforming Pointer Ridge into a “swing space” for the school system to house students while their new school is under construction. She questioned that idea, adding that “if you’re saying that the school infrastructure is degradative or not in [a] viable condition that is conducive to kids learning, why would you use it as a swing space? That doesn’t make any sense.”

The former Meadowbrook Elementary School in Bowie, closed years ago due to low population, was repurposed for many years and more recently used to house Hyattsville Middle School students while their modern school was being built. PGCPS now plans to house Woodmore Elementary students at the Meadowbrook space due to the planned demolition of their school.

Ndebumadu sees aging schools as a problem across the county.

“You cannot continue the model of not investing in schools proactively and having deferred maintenance for multiple years,” she said, “And unfortunately, this has been the strategy across Prince George's County for decades.”

Parents welcome smaller teacher-student ratio

Pointer Ridge Elementary has been recognized for its gifted and talented program but did not meet its annual target for overall academic achievement for the past three years, according to the Maryland Report Card. Still, Pointer Ridge parents continue to tout the school’s sense of community and small teacher-to-student ratio, a point Ndebumadu said should be considered as a use-case to see if lower enrollment can lead to changes in test scores.

“This is bar none the best school we've ever experienced,” Pointer Ridge PTA President Darius Hyman said, whose children have attended five different elementary schools across the United States.

Hyman, 42, expressed “complete and total opposition to closing the school.”

He said the smaller enrollment provides the students an advantage. “They're part of a very magical, beautiful, nurturing environment where their principal and teachers and every faculty (member) greets them by name,” Hyman said, “Parents don’t wanna lose that.”

Matt Simms, a 49-year-old resident whose wife is a teacher at Pointer Ridge and whose daughter is set to start kindergarten in 2024, spoke fondly of the neighborhood school.

“Most kids that go there can walk there and don't need a bus. And with it being a smaller community school, kids are going to school with other kids in the neighborhood, making friends and connections with those people. And the same thing with the parents, … and it creates a nicer community to live in.”

Simms lives a half a mile from Pointer Ridge, in contrast to the nearly seven miles away he lives from Perrywood, where his 4-year-old daughter would be bussed under the consolidation. He said they would consider private school if Pointer Ridge is closed.

By keeping Pointer Ridge open, the school potentially could reenroll 50 students who left due to news of the planned closing, the PTA found. That’s a scenario that could push Pointer Ridge enrollment up to 62% capacity, according to the PTA analysis.

According to a presentation to Pointer Ridge parents, county schools are consolidated due to underutilization, defined as less than 80% seats filled. Pointer Ridge is currently at 53% capacity, and for the past nine years, the utilization rate has been under 70%, according to enrollment data

Brendan Weissel is covering Bowie this semester as a student reporter in the University of Maryland Local News Network.

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