Parents, Teachers Bring Class Size Concerns To School Board
Parents and teachers of the third grade class at Emmetsburg West Elementary brought their concerns over class size to the Emmetsburg Community Schools Board of Education during their meeting Monday evening, Sept. 20. Approximately 15 parents were in attendance, as well as the two third grade instructors Kari Schany and Diana Stafford.
Barb Hanson, mother of a third grader and spokesperson for the group, addressed the board during the open forum.
“Just based on numbers, when you have 28 to 29 in a classroom, your more average or good students who are quiet or shy often don’t get the attention they might need,” said Hanson. “The teachers aren’t going to notice if they’re having problems when there are so many kids in the room, and dealing with those who have behavioral issues or need special modifications. When you get over 21 students in a classroom there’s an increased chance of having kids slip through the cracks because there’s not as much time for individual attention.”
Hanson added, “This isn’t an issue with the current third grade teachers. We’re all in agreement that we have two fantastic teachers who are qualified and can handle it. Both teachers do have an aide, but is that really the best option for this class and the grades coming up?”
Currently, the third grade enrollment is at 57 students. Second grade is at 57, first grade is at 61, and Kindergarten is at 57.
Third Grade teacher Kari Schany also addressed the board members.
“As a board you’ve been publicly invited many times to come to our school, and coming 30 minutes and listening to students read once a week or doing a walk-through doesn’t give you a realistic picture of what our classes are like,” said Schany. “Even last year when we talked about how we needed to not get rid of that extra reading help, no one except Linda [Tienter] visited a classroom. That’s really disappointing to me.”
Schany continued, “Class sizes are definitely an issue—not only the number of bodies, but the number of kids who need one-on-one special attention, whether it’s an academic reason or a behavior reason.”
Schany noted that there are days when she hasn’t had the time to interact with every student, and said that while an aide is appreciated, aides are not teachers.
“We are not afraid of hard work, but we are afraid of not reaching the students who need us. More than half of my students are not from a traditional family, and things are a lot different than they used to be,” Schany said. “If my kids or my granddaughter were in third grade at West, I’d send them to the Catholic School.”
Linda Tienter, member of the board, agreed that there was a need for a third section.
“Students are packed into the room like sardines,” Tienter said. “There’s also a very large number of special needs youngsters in the third grade.”
Board member Tammy Naig asked if there was a consensus among the group that a third classroom would be the ideal solution. The parents and teachers replied in the affirmative.
Naig wondered, “I assume if we go in that direction then we lose two paraeducators. Can we afford to have a third classroom and a para in each classroom?”
“The average teacher costs about $58,000 with all the benefits,” said Superintendent John Joynt. “We have $134,000 of new federal money and 27 months to spend it. Our original plan, which is out, was to hire three paraeducators. If we go with a third teacher, after 27 months, we’d have to check our budget and see if we could continue with it.”
According to Joynt, enrollment has been steady at the West Elementary, however, with the shutdown of local manufacturers Skyjack and SNC, enrollment could begin to decline with families moving out to seek employment elsewhere.
“Unemployment checks will be running out soon, if they haven’t already. If we really thought that elementary class enrollment would stay in the 60s we would have to commit to adding on classrooms or getting portable classrooms at West,” said Joynt. “With the addition of the four-year old preschool this year, it gets pretty complicated.”
A potential option could be adding a third grade teacher and placing that teacher in either the current art room or music room. Art and music instruction would then be conducted via a portable cart. Another option—in light of increasing enrollments in the lower grades—would be to build additional classrooms. According to estimates collected last year, an additional three classrooms could be built at a cost of $816,000. The possibilities of adding portable classrooms and hiring a long-term substitute teacher were also mentioned.
“I don’t have a recommendation for you, I’d like to think on it more,” said Joynt. “I need to talk about this with Mr. Pugh [West Elementary principal].”
“It wouldn’t matter one way or another to me if we hired a teacher or kept the aides,” Pugh said. “I’m a little reluctant to add another teacher because of the sizes of the rooms in the building right now. It’s tight at West with 340 kids in the building compared to 236 a few years ago.”
“You’ve given us an awful lot to think about,” concluded Board President Karla Anderson. “We need time to analyze everything that has been presented to us.”
The issue was tabled to another meeting of the board.