UPDATE: The meeting scheduled for Monday, January 26th will start at 7:00 PM. I had previously posted an incorrect time.
The Northgate School District is investigating the possibility of reorganizing its two elementary schools, so that one building is used for K-3 students while the other would be used to teach students in grades 4-6. This Monday, January 26th, at 7:00 there will be a meeting at the high school to discuss the feasibility of such an idea. I would like to briefly discuss my thoughts on the matter.
First it seems to me that moving to a K-3, 4-6 model makes a lot of educational sense. Some teachers and administrators have noted that having all teachers of a particular grade teaching together in the same building would enable more collaboration and help with curriculum alignment. Some people have also mentioned that such a move could bring greater unity as a district. Another educational benefit would be the possibility of having smaller class sizes due to being able to evenly distribute students in each grade level. I think this is not only the greatest benefit, but for me, it is the reason why the district needs to continue to pursue this option. For the past two years, elementary class sizes of been considerately higher than many would prefer, and in both years, the district made the decision to hire additional elementary school teachers months into the school year. Several students have had to move back and forth between elementary schools, on occasion more than once, so that class sizes could be made somewhat manageable. I feel that it is imperative that we stop moving children back and forth between elementary schools in such fashion.
Some people have also noted some cons to such a move. The biggest one that comes to mind is that some students that walk to school may now have to walk a greater distance. Families with multiple elementary school aged children could have added complexity in getting there kids to school if they attend two different schools. Safety patrols are comprised of fifth and sixth grade students so they would only exist at one school. Also there would likely be some cost in preparing the buildings for such a transition. I think these issues are significantly outweighed by the education benefits previously discussed. I also think many of them can be solved or worked around.
It is possible that there are other benefits\problems that I did not discuss. If you would like learn more or would like to add to the conversation, please consider attending the meeting this Monday. As I have said, it is my belief that reorganizing the schools would be very beneficial. I would take that a step further and would say the district MUST proceed with such a move unless doing so presents a far greater problem that has not yet been discovered. It is imperative that we stop shuffling students between schools and do what is best for all the elementary school students.
The Northgate School District took a step in the right direction at their board meeting on Monday, September 16, 2013 when they voted to recall a teacher and add a fifth kindergarten class to the district. At recent board meetings there have been a large number of concerned parents that have spoken regarding the large kindergarten class sizes, citing not only research regarding the benefits of smaller class sizes, but various safety and educational concerns that they had personally witnessed while volunteering in the classrooms. It was surely a difficult decision for the school board to make, but fortunately for our kindergarten students they voted in favor of education, going against superintendent Joseph Pasquerilla’s recommendation of adding two aides to assist in four already overcrowded classrooms. School board members Timothy Makatura, Daniel Klicker, Shannon Smithey, Gary Paladin and Dan O’Keefe all voted in favor of adding a fifth kindergarten classroom. Board members Brigitte Jackson and Marita Bartholomew voted against it. Board members Tony Barbarino and Shirl Reinhart were absent as usual.
Although this was a step in the right direction, recent furloughs have the school district currently understaffed. Northgate teacher Tom Michalow presented to the board his class size analysis at the middle school / high school level, stating that the Math and Social Studies departments have been hit the hardest. Below are some of the “highlights” of his analysis.
||% of students in classes of 25 or more
||Largest class size
Mr. Michalow also pointed out that these numbers won’t mean much to you if you think that 25 or more students in a class is appropriate. I haven’t heard any teacher, administrator or board member say that 25 is an appropriate number for class size, however I have heard a couple board members say things such as
“Back when I was in school, I had XX amount of kids in my class”
“My child had large class sizes and turned out ok”.
As a parent it’s frustrating to hear that type of response, because as Mr. Michalow puts it, “this isn’t 1985”. The classroom environment is different today. All students are expected to learn and the stakes are higher.
To continue moving in the right direction, our school district must place education as its top priority and our parents need to make sure they follow through and help them when\where possible. We need to stay informed with what is happening in our district, and also with what is happening at the state and national levels. Here are a few places to start:
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.