Two teachers have asked the South Middleton School Board not to burst the support for an enrollment bubble moving through the district’s elementary schools.
Joetta Sunday and Tracy Lyons, both teachers at the Iron Forge building, spoke Monday on behalf of the current fourth-grade class of 193 students.
They timed their comments to the early stages of a budget review process where the board is facing the prospect of a $1.4 million deficit for 2018-19.
Current fourth-grade students are spread out over eight sections or classrooms. Next school year, they will replace the current fifth-grade class of 160 students in seven sections.
Sunday and Lyons asked the school board to maintain the current threshold of eight sections when the fourth-graders enter the fifth-grade. They said eight sections are needed to keep an optimal student-teacher ratio to address the needs of this group of students.
“As always we want to do the best that we can,” said Lyons, a fifth-grade teacher and grade-level team leader.
Periodically a larger class or “bubble” of students can move through the enrollment of local school district causing a rippling effect that influences staffing and building capacity decisions.
Prior to this year, the majority of the current fourth-grade students were in nine classrooms for both the second and third grades, Lyons said. She said the concern is a further step down from eight to seven sections would cause class sizes to approach 28 to 29 students without even accounting for additional students should new families move into the district.
Sunday, who is a fourth-grade teacher and a grade-level team leader, surveyed the fourth-grade faculty to obtain demographic information on the needs of those students heading to the fifth-grade.
According to Sunday, 98 of the current 193 students have one or more significant needs that go beyond typical classroom demands on teacher time and resources. Her presentation included the following statistics:
- 22 students are in learning support.
- 10 students are in autistic or social support.
- Nine receive Title I reading support.
- Seven could use remedial math support.
- Six have severe health issues.
- Three are English Language Learners.
- 12 have home-life issues that impact learning.
- 12 receive speech remediation services.
- Two are medicated for severe anxiety.
- Three are undergoing testing for attention issues.
- Two have severe ADD issues and are not receiving medication.
The statistics did not include the number of students in the fourth-grade who receive gifted support services.
“As a result of increased class sizes, these services will be stretched extremely thin,” said Lyons, adding it would be very difficult to meet student needs. “We have been in this situation before in my 23 years here.”
Prior school boards and administrations have taken one of two approaches to accommodating enrollment bubbles, Lyons said. One approach was to do nothing about the temporary increases in class sizes. The other is to hire more classroom aides to help the full-time teacher.
Neither approach has been successful, Lyons said. The district needs to address the need with full-time staff, she said.
School board president Randy Varner thanked the teachers for bringing up the issue early in the budget review process. He said that as the review moves forward and the budget nears finalization, it can be harder for the board to address the kind of need the teachers had outlined.