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First Grade Class Size Concerns Parents

On May 10 the School Committee heard a discussion centered on the ebb and flow of enrollment numbers and concerns regarding teacher/student ratios, especially in regard to first grade class sizes.

Committee member, Scott Harrison, relayed that a number of parents have expressed their concerns to him in regard to current class sizes due to "what I understand is a temporary population swell within our student population". Harrison recalled that during budget discussions, in January, several recommendations from school principals, involved the need for additional teachers. "I'm trying to understand where we are with that," he stated. "A lot of parents are very concerned class sizes [may be] going to astronomical levels."

School Superintendent Robert Tremblay assured the Board, "We've been watching the enrollment for quite some time." Tremblay then distributed fact sheets to the Board, which detailed enrollment projections and spoke to how those numbers were arrived at.

Citing kindergarten as an example, Tremblay said there were a number of variables used in projecting enrollment, including numbers arrived at from "returned cover sheets [from] fully registered students for next year." Added to those numbers were figures for "outstanding enrollments," which he defined as "missing a portion of that registration." Those totals are then combined with the numbers for cover sheets, which were initially filled out in February but have generated no further action by parents. Census figures also come into play, with children, which "we know are age-eligible - that is, five years old by August 31 - who have expressed, in some way, an interest in enrolling" factored in. The importance of accurate kindergarten estimates lies in the fact that this year's kindergarten classes advances to become next year's grade one student population.

Tremblay called the Board's attention to enrollment projections for both Brookside and Memorial elementary schools, for the 2012-13 year. He said, initial figures concluded projected enrollment for grade one at Memorial would set the class sizes at "almost 27 students per class." "It appears that we'll have to have a new-hire there," Tremblay said. With the hiring of an additional teacher the class size would average 23 students, which Tremblay defined as "much more manageable. It's not ideal but I think it's a good number to work with."

Attempts to add even more staff, in order to reduce the class sizes further, would in-itself bring on added complications, as Tremblay detailed. The primary concern centered on the space limitations at Memorial. In order to accommodate even more staff "we compromise a few things," Tremblay said, noting that the computer lab would need to be sacrificed. Class size parity at the two schools would then also be undermined. "At one building [class size would be] 17 or 18 and at the other school it's 22. At what point do we stop that and say we can live with those numbers to keep class sizes manageable?" he asked.

Harrison asked if ballooning class sizes have been impacted by "moving English Language Learner [ELL] students into the regular classrooms." Tremblay noted that, in fact, it was "quite the opposite." ELL students have been moved into "more of a structured English emersion classroom" and taken out of regular classroom settings. "We're putting them in a program that's endorsed by the state and is allowing us some flexibility to really target the interventions appropriately, Tremblay said. "We're going to see our classrooms better balanced as a result of some of those changes."


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