Jun 25, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
In the midst of overall declining enrollment, the size of the 2013-14 third grade class at Burton Street Elementary School has taken a sudden turn upward with an increase of at least five students. This unexpected influx, plus a previously-approved elimination of one section (classroom and teacher) from third grade, has caused concerns among teachers and district parents that third grade class sizes next year will be so large as to be detrimental to students and more challenging for teachers.
“Classes beyond 20 [students] at this grade level proves to be challenging in so many ways, and to hear that the board is proposing the third grade be dropped to four sections for the 2013-14 school year is something that we oppose,” wrote the entire third grade staff of Deanna Abbey, Kara Burry, Heather Enderle, Eileen VanAntwerp and Amanda Yerdon in a letter to the board of education dated June 13. “As teachers we only want the best for our students, and to work with class sizes greater than 20, we are challenged to meet their individual needs. With larger class sizes we spend more time managing and less time teaching.”
The teachers submitted the letter to district Superintendent Robert Dubik, who presented it to the school board during its regular monthly meeting on June 17. All five teachers, as well as other Burton Street teachers, staff and administrators, also attended the meeting.
According to the district, the incoming third grade class for the 2013-14 school year was expected to be 98 students — 11 less than the 2012-13 class — and with four teachers would create an approximate class size of 24.5 students per teacher. The incoming third grade class had four-and-a-half class sections during second grade (the half being the multi-age classroom, which included first graders), which is why the administration decided to reduce third grade this year from five to four sections and shift the extra section/teaching position to a different grade level, the administration previously decided during the recent budget discussions.
The addition of at least five new students to the third grade class in recent weeks — and typically more new students will sign up during the summer — would create an average class size of about 26 students for four teachers. If the district decided to keep rather than eliminate the fifth classroom for third grade, the class sizes would be reduced to about 21 per teacher.
The issue is not just about student numbers and classroom management, the teachers stated, but also about the impact such high numbers would have on day-to-day learning, the third grade state test scores and implementation of the new federal and state Common Core standards.
Another impact is on teacher evaluations, since the new state-mandated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) more directly ties a teacher’s professional performance review to student growth and achievement.
“We knew the [classroom] numbers were high going into the budget process, but we did not expect to get five new students,” Dubik said at the meeting. “That really threw the numbers up high. These numbers are high for us.”
Dubik said, however, that many other schools have class sizes of such high numbers, and Cazenovia middle and high school have both had class sizes of 25 and 26 in years past. He added that research shows that class size has no effect on academic achievement after second grade.
Dubik said the district continually monitors the number of incoming students during every summer — since that is the usual time for new student registration — and will continue to monitor the third grade situation as well. He said it is “not uncommon” for the district to hire additional teachers in August due to changes in enrollment.
The district currently has the salary of one high school social studies teacher position available in the budget, after it was specially added for a teacher who then left the district. The school board has not yet decided whether to hire an additional high school social studies teacher with that funding or allocate the money someplace else, but it could be used for a fifth third grade teaching position, Dubik said. He said the district may also have one “unanticipated teacher opening” this summer, and, if that occurs, the district will “look to possibly reallocate that money.”
The board will have a better understanding of its budget and staffing status by the time of its July 9 reorganizational meeting, at which time this issue may be resolved, Dubik said.
“The board is appreciative to listen to all teacher and parent concerns,” Dubik said. “As at all board meetings, we will take that into consideration and I will make a recommendation to the board at the July meeting.”
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Heard from Dubik that the Cazenovia High School graduation rate for the 2011-12 school year was 94 percent, which was the third highest in the 23-district Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES system. The average OCM BOCES district graduation rate is 87.8 percent. Cazenovia’s graduation rate was 96 percent for the 2010-11 school year, and 90 percent for the 2009-10 school year.
—Ratified an agreement with the Cazenovia United Educators Union that calls for a 2 percent pay increase for teachers for the 2013-14 school year. The agreement was previously voted on and approved by the CUE on June 4.
—Ratified an agreement with the Cazenovia Administrators and Supervisors Association that calls for a 2 percent pay increase for district administrators for the 2013-14 school year. The union previously agreed to this in its contract.
—Reviewed the correct process that a district principal must adhere to when a student is given out-of-school suspension. The board agreed to change the wording of the process from stating that parents “may request” an informal conference with the principal to stating that parents “have the right” to an informal conference.
—Approved Tetra tech consulting and engineering firm as the architect for the district’s bus lift replacement project. That project, for which district voters recently approved the expenditure of up to $100,000, is tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of August and should cost about $88,000, said Bill Furlong, assistant superintendent for business and finance.
—Approved the updated middle school student handbook.
—Scheduled its annual reorganizational meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, in the board of education meeting room.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.