Fluctuating Enrollment at Central Results in Crowded 4th Grade Classrooms

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Thursday September 10, 2015

Crowding in classrooms and individual teacher/student engagement were just a couple of the concerns brought to light by parents who attended the September 2 school board meeting regarding the current 4th grade class size at Rick Marcotte Central School. At the start of the meeting, Superintendent David Young gave an update on enrollment, staffing, and allocation of resources specific to the 4th grade at RMCS. Currently, there are 77 children in three 4th grade classes. The optimal range for class size is 16-20, according to Young and exceeding 25 is deemed inappropriate. Young explained that not all students registered at the same time and he did not have this final number at budget time. The classrooms at Central School are 765 square feet which present challenges to teachers and students alike when class size exceeds the recommended number. “The increased class size does not allow them (teachers) to best meet needs of the students...academically or through personal connections,” Young said.

Parents expressed their support to hire an additional teacher to help reduce class size. Mark Bradley, a parent of two 4th graders who are in different classes at Central said he looked into the class sizes at Chamberlin and Orchard for comparison. Chamberlin has two classes of 15 each and Orchard has three classes divided into groups of 20, 20, and 17. Bradley also mentioned that he had talked to new Central School Principal Brent Coon who agreed that class sizes are not ideal.

Young said he will be making a recommendation to the board to approve hiring an additional 4th grade teacher at their September 16 meeting. However, this potential new hire is not in the budget. Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald noted that K-5 enrollment district wide is down 20 students and the board had already added one teacher and paraeducator.

There were 236.90 FTE (full time equivalent) positions included in the budget approved in March.

An additional 2.5 FTEs were approved by the board June 3, 2015 as well as a .50 FTE added August 31, 2015. This figure does not include the additional teacher Young will recommend to the board later in September.

How and why did this happen?

The school district does its best at budget time to predict the following year’s enrollment, but there is always some fluctuation as a result of families moving into and out of the district. At the elementary level, school choice is also a factor. Young said that this particular grade level has grown larger each year and provided the following numbers: when the current 4th graders were in Kindergarten they were a class of 52, grade 1: 57, grade 2: 64, grade 3: 69, and grade 4 was projected to be 68-70, but grew to 77.

The School Choice Factor

According to Director of Learning Stuart Weiss, “We thought that school choice would end because under current law all students in the state failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2014. That is because, according to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), all schools in the country needed to have 100 percent proficiency in English and math by 2014. Most states applied for waivers from this aspect of the law, but Vermont is one of eight states without a waiver. Because of this we thought that school choice would be ending, since Central would be identified for a second time in 2015, and would not be able to accept choice students.”

Even though the state applied for a new waiver about using the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) results to determine AYP for 2015, the waiver wasn’t granted until May. Thus, all Vermont schools stayed at the same level of identification as 2014. “In Central’s case that meant that they were not identified as a “school in need of improvement, hence school choice,” Weiss said.

There are a total of 40 students attending Central School this year as school choice students. Of this total, 6 are new choice students, and 34 are returning to Central as continuing choice students. Students transferring into Central from Chamberlin account for 25 students and 15 are from Orchard. The breakdown of choice students at Central is K: 2, grade 1:7, grade 2: 11, grade 3: 3, grade 4: 9, and grade 5: 8.

Weiss added that even if school choice had ended last year, all of the participating students could have stayed at Central, but the district would not have been required to provide transportation.

There are many factors in play when trying to pinpoint when and where fluctuations in student enrollment will occur, and to determine appropriate staffing levels. A recommendation for the addition of another 4th grade teacher at Central is on the agenda for the September 16 meeting.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent