Dear President Wheeler,
As one of the newest members of the Havre de Grace City Council and the Mayor's appointed liaison to both the Board of Education and the Harford County Council, I have some deep concerns about the current situation at Havre de Grace High School. For those that watched the election coverage closely in the local newspapers and attended the City Council forums, it should be no surprise that one of my platforms was a new and vastly improved Havre de Grace High School. I am a proud graduate of Havre de Grace High School. I have spent a lifelong commitment of giving back to my community that I am so proud to call home.
The Warrior Pride and community spirit of the Havre de Grace Community is unparalleled. It is that Warrior Pride that makes us one of the best kept secrets in Harford County. Why? Because we always tend to wait patiently and try to do the right things for the right reasons. For those that know the history, Meadowvale’s renovation efforts were long over do when it was actually completed. I started those efforts when my daughter was in kindergarten and it was completed when she was entering 11th grade. As far as the James Harris Field project, we never received full funding, but we never complained. We rallied the community to raise funds and even got personally involved in the actual construction project. For instance, we had to put our own visitor bleachers together because funding wasn’t available to contract it out. I don’t know of too many schools that had to face such challenges. But again, we never complained. Hopefully, the final stages of the project will soon be completed.
On August 20, the Harford County Board of Education held a public hearing. It was at that public hearing that the Havre de Grace elected officials, the Havre de Grace Alumni, the students and the Havre de Grace community attended in big numbers to address the need for a new Havre de Grace High School. So why a new high school at Havre de Grace?
- SECURITY CONCERNS. The main entrance is in a geographically separate area from the main office. It is hard to maintain control as to who comes and exits the building. That, in and of itself, presents major problems and concerns. However, the security concerns for Havre de Grace High are even more complicated. Not only is the main entrance in a geographically separate area from the main office, the Havre de Grace campus is split in two by Congress Avenue. The gymnasium and music department is on the opposite side of the street and is always unlocked allowing anyone to enter the building. Years ago, when society appeared to be much simpler, this was an adequate arrangement. However, with the current problems both nationally and internationally and events such as those that occurred at Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, we can no longer afford to take that risk. The Board of Education Strategic Plan’s Goal is to "provide a safe, secure and healthy learning environment that is conducive to effective teaching and learning." Given the current situation at Havre de Grace High School, we are undoubtedly falling short of that goal. Bottom line, we need to act now before the next tragedy hits closer to home. The recent events at Perry Hall High School reinforce that.
- SAFETY CONCERNS. The hallways are extremely narrow. When it is time for classes to change it presents a real challenge for the students. More importantly, the stairways are approximately four foot wide. Can you image what would happen in the event of an emergency and students had to evacuate the building quickly? Someone could undoubtedly get trampled to death. It is an accident waiting to happen. The current situation cannot be in compliance with code enforcement regulations and ADA requirements.
- OLD AND OUTDATED RESULTING IN TECHNOLOGICAL SHORTCOMINGS. Havre de Grace High School has only one (I repeat only one) computer lab for the entire school and it is not even large enough to hold 30 computers. Given the challenges that our kids will have to face once graduating, this puts them at a severe disadvantage. In addition, Havre de Grace High School has “no WIFI ACCESS.” White Boards are for the most part “non-existent." Teachers do not have laptops. Havre de Grace High School Student Government President Jillian Larrimore told a story of hand-me-down text books and equipment—that "the resources are ancient." When they visit other schools and witness first-hand the number of computer labs and technological advantages they are afforded, they continue to ask the question, why are we not afforded the same opportunities for educational success? With a new school, come new resources, which is where kids would benefit. Students have reinforced time and time again that poor resources and lack of technology affects the student's motivation and pride. You have to ask yourself the question. As a key decision maker who looks out for the best interests of the very people you represent, are you OK with this? Do you feel that the students at Havre de Grace High School are on a level playing field with students throughout Harford County and the State of Maryland?
- FACILITY INFRASTRUCTURE. The school was built in 1955 (57 years ago). And with that comes the facility infrastructure concerns associated with an older school. At the recent public hearing students talked about classrooms flooding in the area of the band room putting the expensive musical instruments at risk. They discussed plumbing concerns. They talked about the inadequate temperature control throughout the building with some rooms extremely cold, while others are extremely hot. Monique Watson, the [current] senior class president at Havre de Grace high School said it best, "as far as the building and how old it is and kind of grimy, yes it is. Our toilet water is yellow and no one has even gone in it yet. And no, you do not want to drink out of the water fountain." You have to witness it first hand to get a full appreciation regarding the student’s concerns and perspective. Bottom line, we are not providing the students with an adequate learning environment.
- MAGNET PROGRAMS. Havre de Grace loses approximately 30-40 students every year to other schools in the county. Magnet programs have stolen away the top students at Havre de Grace High School. One has to ask the question why? Is it because that the current school structure at Havre de Grace will not accommodate growth and expansion to support such a program? Performing Arts would be a great program to pursue at Havre de Grace. We have exceptional band and chorus instructors and a viable drama guild program through Parks and Recreation. Given our close proximity to the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay and the impending Lily Run project, environmental science would be another magnet program that makes sense. We don’t allow athletes to transfer to other schools to play on a more competitive team (which could potentially posture them for an athletic scholarship), but we will allow our best and brightest students to transfer, leaving their friends behind, because we cannot provide them the educational opportunities in their home town. It seems there has to be a better way.
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Given the recent implementation of BRAC initiatives, Havre de Grace is at a severe disadvantage when compared to other municipalities throughout Harford County. Talk to the business leaders and the real estate agents. When people are planning to relocate to our area, one of the key deciding factors is the school system. We have great teachers and administrators at Havre de Grace High School. We feel we are one of the best kept secrets in Harford County and we are extremely proud of that. However, we cannot begin to compete. They will not give us the opportunity of a visit. They see the façade of the school and just drive by. Can you blame them? A new high school would undoubtedly sell homes in the local area and provide a tremendous boost to business and tourism in Havre de Grace. The school system would also benefit because it would help you to address zoning concerns that you have to face year after year. It would be a win-win scenario for all concerned.
We have stood by to watch significant upgrades to North Harford, Bel Air, Edgewood and Aberdeen. We stood by and watch the construction of a new school at Patterson Mill. Again, we have waited patiently never once complaining. We have been nothing but professional throughout the entire process. However, given the concerns addressed above, we need to elevate the concerns of the Havre de Grace elected officials, the Havre de Grace Alumni, the Havre de Grace community and most importantly the students to the state level so that in the event that money does become available, we are in the mix to compete. Failure to do so would undoubtedly result in an opportunity lost. I recognize that we are facing an era of increasing budget uncertainty and funding shortfalls. However, as you develop the path forward on behalf of the children of Harford County, I encourage you to keep an open mind. The students at Havre de Grace High School deserve the same opportunities for educational success as those in other parts of the county. I look forward to the opportunity to working with you, the Harford County Public School System Superintendent, the Harford County Council, the Harford County Executive and our State representatives. Working together, we can undoubtedly make a difference for all concerned. In closing, I would like to leave you with one thought. That thought….IT’S OUR TURN.
Havre de Grace City Council