2005-12-08 / Front Page

Class size a topic at re-organization session

By Donna K. Drago

School Superintendent Kathy Sipala last week asked School Committee members for feedback on what size classrooms they feel comfortable supporting going into the next round of budget discussions.

Sipala said at the committee’s Dec. 1 meeting that class size “must include our philosophy, and what we want to provide for services.” She noted that the Jamestown class size model “provides individualization far beyond any place I’ve ever worked.”

In grades kindergarten through 2, there are three classrooms that currently have 14 students, Sipala said. Because there are students with autism spectrum disorders in each of those small classrooms, “that gives them the ability to participate fully,” which would be difficult with a larger class size, she said.

There are currently 38 students in grade 3, and just 43 students in grade 4, Sipala reported, noting that they are split between three classrooms in each grade, which make for class sizes of 12, 13, and 13 in grade 3 and 13, 14 and 16 in grade 4.

“If we go down to two classrooms (in grades 3 and 4), we still match the contract language” set in the collective bargaining agreement with the Jamestown teachers union.

“I’d like a conversation about size,” Sipala requested.

Committee member Julia Held said that with grades 1 and 2 at 52, and 51 students respectively, the small grades 3 and 4 “are a blip.”

With the larger class sizes coming up immediately behind the current small groups, it would be a “disservice” to the students to arrange the class size based on the smallest groups, Held said.

The discussion should be based on “quality of education” for the students, and that she did not think the two small grade levels should be “penalized because they’re smaller,” Committee member Julie Kallfelz said. “My gut instinct is that the two grades should stay in three groups,” she added.

Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said that the school district needs to look at a long-range plan rather than “make decisions about single years.”

Kaiser said she was playing devil’s advocate and asked her committee, “Is this the best use of our resources?”

She noted that grade levels with 38 and 43 students “are very small numbers,” and said she wanted to look at the situation “to meet the needs of the students and the entire community.”

Held re-iterated her commitment to academic excellence and said she felt it was her job as a school board member to “discuss the details of academic excellence rather than mention them in passing as fiscal managers.”

The committee asked Sipala to provide them an “impact statement” giving the pros and cons of what the reality would be if classrooms were dropped in the grades with fewest students.

The committee also discussed possible scenarios for re-organizing grades 6, 7 and 8 in light of the declining enrollment.

Grade 6 was already dropped from four classrooms to three for the current school year.

Sipala said that one of the biggest issues the school faces is that each of the four teachers in grades 7 and 8 is certified to teach in their “content area” of math, science, social studies, or English. So removing a teacher is also removing an expert in one of the core subjects, she noted.

Parent Paul McDermott, a member of the School Improvement Team, spoke during the public forum, saying that the SIT “endorses the Goodyear Plan,” a four-teacher model that would allow teachers to teach enrichment subjects not currently offered when they were not teaching their core subjects.

Teacher Lark Goodyear made a presentation, developed by the junior high teachers, at the November work session.

Since Goodyear and her colleagues put together their plan for a four-teacher-per-grade model, Sipala has been working alone to come up with other ideas, she said.

“The teachers will not put forth another plan,” Sipala said, noting that they are concerned about their own jobs and those of their colleagues.

Sipala drew some rough diagrams outlining a typical school day with three teachers in each of grades 6, 7, and 8, four teachers in grade 8, and three teachers in grade 7. Kaiser asked Sipala if she could come back to the School Committee with some additional information about how each teacher is certified, who might be retiring, and who could teach what if the teaching staff was reduced.

Polar Bears swim at school

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 1:20 p.m. students in the Rocky Hill School Polar Bear Club took their December dunk in the school tidal pool located on campus. Once a month, the Rocky Hill Polar Bears brave the weather and jump in the waters of the Potowomut River. Led by senior Chelsea Pereira of Jamestown, the troop of students continues a tradition that began seven years ago.

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