Class sizes raise questions

Published 10:56 pm Friday, December 9, 2011

The issue of class sizes once again was an item of contention at the School Board’s monthly meeting this week.

Discussion about student-teacher ratios and the number of students in each class has come up at the last three School Board meetings, either during the public’s comments or board business.

During Thursday’s meeting, Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis shared the average student-teacher ratios for each grade level at all of the city’s schools with the School Board.

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“It will fluctuate,” she said. “Some classes will be larger, and some will be smaller.”

In the division’s middle schools, sixth-grade class sizes vary from 22 to 23 students; seventh grades usually have 21 to 22, and eighth-grade classes on average have 19 to 20 students.

High school class sizes are organized by subject area, with math at 23 students, English at 22 and science at 24.

While Chavis discussed the numbers for middle and high schools, the board spent most of its time talking about the elementary class sizes.

Throughout the division’s elementary schools, kindergarten and first-grade classes on average have 21 students, second and third grades have about 20 in each class, fourth-grade classes have 26 and fifth grade averages 23 students in each class.

“In the upper grades, the state will allow us to add more students into those classes as opposed to the lower grades,” Chavis said.

The school division receives state funding if it keeps its kindergarten through third grades below a certain number, which is calculated using its free and reduced-price lunch percentage.

Superintendent Deran Whitney said he knows some parents are concerned that their students’ classes have more students than the average, and this can be especially problematic in schools, like Creekside and Florence Bowser, where the districts are experiencing population growth.

“When we have a class of 25 in the areas that have much growth, that is an area of concern,” he said. “We need to address that, whether it’s adding a new school or adding a new teacher.”

Board member Linda Bouchard asked Chavis what the division will do if class sizes at schools that have reached the cap continue to increase during the year.

“At Creekside, for example, kids are coming in every day,” she said. “How are we going to handle that? How large are we going to let these kindergarten classes get?”

Whitney told her, “If it continues to go to the 27s and 30s, we’re going to have to add another teacher.”

Board member Phyllis Byrum asked how budget cuts in recent years have affected the class sizes.

Whitney said most positions that have been cut aren’t people who have lost their jobs — many are positions that weren’t filled and were being held in case the division finds money for them.

“If those positions were still available, instead of moving that teacher or transferring that teacher, we would have added a new teacher at Creekside for one of those positions that hadn’t been filled,” he said. “It’s always good to have a budget with some teachers available for possible growth.”

Chavis pointed out that classes containing students with special needs and special education classes maintain smaller sizes.

“You have to be careful looking at the average,” she said. “It does vary.”

Whitney said the teachers have had to adjust to having more kids in their classrooms.

“If I had 18, that’s less students I have to monitor; I can get around easier,” he said. “But with 25, I might have to be more creative.”