Parents rally against teacher transfers

Published 1:08 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eleven teachers were shifted in schools throughout the school division last week to create smaller class sizes in certain schools, but the move didn’t sit well with some parents.

Two of those parents, whose children lost their kindergarten teacher at Florence Bowser Elementary School, voiced their concerns to the School Board at its meeting Thursday.

Kristin Outlaw-Hartman told the board she found out her son was losing his teacher only days before the transfer was supposed to happen.

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“Many of us requested the transfers be held before the community was sure every option was evaluated,” she said. “It’s difficult to trust that that transfer of teachers was well-considered or that any other options were on the table.”

When the teacher was transferred, Outlaw-Hartman’s son and his classmates were transferred to other classes. As a result, the kindergarten class sizes at Florence Bowser rose from an average of 18 to 24 students, which is the maximum allowed at the school.

However, Superintendent Deran Whitney said, the shifting is necessary to continue to obtain funding from the state through the K3 Class Size Reduction Initiative.

“Having to move teachers each year is a practice that most, if not all, school divisions need to do,” he said.

On the 10th day of school, all of the principals assess their student-teacher ratios to see if the number is above or below the school’s maximum, which can be between 22 and 24 and is calculated using the number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch.

Whitney said teachers have to be added to the schools with extra students, and shifting is the only choice when the budget is tight.

“I too am disappointed we had to move the teachers,” he said. “Kindergarten is not the best grade to do it, but in many instances, our hands are tied unfortunately.”

Heather Cafini, whose son also lost his kindergarten teacher at Florence Bowser, told the board she decided to put her son in public school because she thought it was the best choice.

“I was wrong,” she said. “Had I known my son would be packed in a classroom with 23 other students, I would have made another choice for his education.”

Cafini said her son used to be excited about school, but the recent change has caused him to have headaches and a loss in appetite.

“There’s nothing wrong physically with my son,” she said. “He’s showing signs of stress.”

Many board members shared the mothers’ concerns.

Vice Chairwoman Thelma Hinton said she has gotten several calls from Florence Bowser families about the transfers, and she asked Whitney if the administration considers that parents expect one teacher to instruct their children the whole year.

“The families are very disappointed,” Hinton said.

Whitney said even if a teacher promises to be there all year, there is no way to tell it won’t change.

“We cannot predict that the teacher is going to remain there for the entire year,” he said.

Board member Linda Bouchard said the transfers caused “a terrible disruption” for all the families involved, and Chairman Michael Debranski said he wanted to know why the funding isn’t there for new teachers and what else could be done.

“I’m not proud of that, but that’s the reality,” Whitney said.

Outlaw-Hartman said the school division is just shifting the problem from school to school.

“Not even two hours into the first day of kindergarteners per class, a new kindergartener registered at Florence Bowser,” she said. “How is it that 25 students at Creekside or Hillpoint is so bad that transfers are required?”

Outlaw-Hartman said the school division needs to recognize the negative effect larger class sizes have on students.

“This is something to especially consider with our high school dropout rates over 10 percent,” she said. “Our younger children, just starting their education under your watch, already have the deck stacked against them.”