Monthly Archives: August 2013

Projected Kindergarten Class Size at Northgate

The last few days I was hoping to post an update to my previous blog post. I wanted to write about how I brought up my concerns regarding the teachers not being prepared for the school year due to the shuffling of positions and poor timing. I wanted to say that I appreciated that superintendent Dr. Pasquerilla at least addressed my concerns at the school board meeting on 8/19/2013, stating that the teacher shuffling was due to the checkboard furloughs per an agreement with the teachers’ union*, and that the district could not take action on final teacher furloughs/recalls/assignments before August 1, also per an agreement with the union*. I wanted to say that while I was concerned with class size, my daughter is very bright and will do just fine attending Bellevue Elementary.

Then I received word that as of today, 8/23/2013, the projected kindergarten class sizes are 29-30 students per classroom at Bellevue and 27-28 students per classroom at Avalon. I called Dr. Pasquerilla and spoke with him regarding these numbers. He said that while they are planning as if they are going to have that many kindergarten students, some of the applications were incomplete and it is likely that those numbers are actually lower come Monday (when classes start). He said that he has a plan although would not go into specific details regarding his plan. He said that he wanted to monitor class size the first week of school and then make a decision on how to proceed.

While I understand that months in advance you cannot predict how many kids are going to enroll in kindergarten, I feel like Dr. Pasquerilla and the school board could have planned better. Perhaps they shouldn’t have furloughed elementary school teachers when we’ve seen an increase in elementary enrollment in recent years. Instead of planning for maxed out classrooms, perhaps they should have initially planned for more manageable classroom sizes, and then an increase in kindergarten enrollment would have been, well…more manageable. Assistant to the Superintendent Ms. Lattari estimated that we can expect 8-10 students enroll in kindergarten after the start of the school year based on previous years, which means kindergarten class sizes could start rising into the low 30s. Now we are being reactive instead of proactive, and it is going to add another layer of difficulty on our teachers, parents, and…oh yeah, students.

* The agreement is between the school district and the teachers’ union. Let’s not place all the blame on the teachers’ union, because the district accepted that agreement.

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Thinking of Sending My Daughter to Avalon* (and some other thoughts)

Before I get into why I am considering sending my daughter to Avalon for kindergaten, I would like to share some concerns. As of the 8/12 school board meeting there were still teaching positions that hadn’t been settled and the first day of class is on 8/26. ONLY TWO WEEKS until school starts and there are teachers that are still unsure whether or not they will be called back, and if so, for which positions! And I don’t think everything will be finalized until next Monday 8/19. Regardless of when everything is finalized, it means that there will be some teachers that will have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to prepare their curriculum for the year. If that doesn’t seem ridiculous, there are likely to be some scenarios where there are teachers that must learn / follow a new curriculum (due to the adoption of the common core), to teach unfamiliar classes that they are being forced to teach (even if they haven’t taught in years) and now they have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to figure everything out. More on this in a moment.

Today marked the last day of Kindergarten screenings and I was told that there were a total of 101 kids screened. At the last school board meeting I asked how many kids could be expected to register after the first day of school and I was told maybe 8-10 based on previous years. So that means we can reasonably expect about 110 kids to be in the kindergarten class next year. Given an even distribution of students between the two schools, that would mean two classes would have 27 students and two classes would have 28 students. That is certainly higher than I would like, is almost double the PSEA recommendations, and is higher than the recommendations of another nearby school district. I failed to ask a very important question at the school board meeting. What is the break down of kindergarten students be between the two schools? I was told Monday that they were working hard to get a good distribution of students, and I was told today that they don’t have those final numbers because the class lists are not yet finalized. However, my gut feeling is that it is not going to be perfectly even and I expect Bellevue elementary to have somewhat larger kindergarten class sizes than Avalon (this is not fact…yet, it is just a feeling).

That brings me back to my original concerns. Not only have teachers not had much time to prepare, many are taking positions that are very unfamiliar to them. I would feel a lot better about that if they were making career choices on their own, but in this case they are forced between taking a new position offered to them, or unemployment. I will give two examples to highlight my point, but I want to be clear that in no way am I judging any teachers’ performance or potential, just highlighting the craziness of the situation our school district has found itself in. I have heard that it is likely that the librarian will be teaching kindergarten and the Dean of Students will be teaching second grade. These are two examples of people who are well into their careers, who haven’t taught full time in a classroom in many years (or ever for all I know), and are being forced into making significant career moves that they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for themselves. Now take someone who hasn’t taught in a very long time (or ever for all I know) and assign them a classroom two weeks before school starts and throw in a new curriculum and some shaky morale for good measure. And in the case of the kindergarten teacher-to-be, assign her a classroom with a *minimum* of 27 students (probably more). Again I have nothing against these teachers, rather I am saying that our school district has continued to put our teachers in very difficult positions. And there are other examples of similar stories, but let’s move on.

Why are my wife and I considering sending our daughter to Avalon? Well first, I feel that Avalon will have smaller class sizes. And second, we feel more comfortable with the Avalon kindergarten teachers (again, these are our personal preferences due to our own experience and research and how we think the teachers are going to be placed). I think the district will welcome our daughter to Avalon because it will help with the distribution of students between schools, especially if the alternative is a school outside the Northgate School District. I will know more about this Monday if/when everything is finalized.

One last brief thought. According to superintendent Dr. Joseph Pasquerilla’s contract, he should have had his review and possible salary increase by now (depending on the results of his review). However I have not heard anything about such matters in the past few school board meetings. I would be interested to know the status of any such proceedings, especially in light of our current situation which began with the illegal furlough of teachers due to budget concerns.