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Class sizes still a concern in Shenandoah County

By Kim Walter

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County School Board received updated reports on enrollment and class sizes this week, but members also heard how those numbers are impacting instruction at one of the division's schools.

Jeremy Raley, assistant superintendent, said now that the division is more than a week into the school year, it's a better time to look at enrollment numbers.

"Things are still changing in those first few days," he said. "Around day five, they settle down a bit and we can get a better idea of how things are looking."

Raley provided day five enrollment numbers for the current school year, as well as the same numbers from the 2012-2013 school year. Some schools only saw a difference of one or two students.

The biggest changes were noted at Ashby Lee Elementary School, down 27 students, and Peter Muhlenburg Middle School, which gained 22 additional students since last year.

Even though W.W. Robinson and Sandy Hook Elementary Schools didn't see a big change in overall enrollment, Raley informed the board at its Thursday meeting that both schools are operating over capacity.

The operating capacity for W.W. Robinson is 1,192, but current enrollment is 1,245. With 1,025 at Sandy Hook, the school is operating at 107.6 percent capacity.

The board also got a look at specific grade level numbers at each elementary school. After taking a quick look, board member Kathryn Holsinger expressed her concern.

Holsinger said she wasn't happy with some of the student to teacher ratios -- some first grade classes were up to 23 students per teacher, and a few kindergarten classes were up to 22 students.

"That is way too many students, kindergarteners especially, for one teacher to handle," she said.

Stacey Leitzel, director of elementary education, said the division was staying within state guidelines for class sizes. She said the highest acceptable ratio, according to a board-approved formula, was 24 students to one teacher in grades K-3.

"We should be doing better than the state averages, though," Holsinger said. "I'm not trying to be harsh or pick on anyone, but you have to admit that it would be better to have lower numbers."

Before the report, John Woods, a sixth grade science teacher at North Fork Middle School, addressed the board about the same topic.

He said the sixth grade team used to have two math teachers, but due to budget cuts, the team only has one.

"The class sizes are up to 27 or 28 kids in one math class," he said. "That's tough on a teacher. Especially with such an important subject at an important time in these students' development."

Woods requested that the board consider funding another teaching position to help cut down on the class sizes.

Such faculty additions wouldn't be funded under the current budget, according to Dr. Kevin Castner, interim superintendent.

"I'm not sure how we can fix some of these class sizes at the moment," he said. "It's something to look at and consider for the next budget cycle, but I don't think we are harming the students with the way things are now."

Holsinger said she would be interested in looking at progress levels of current third graders, compared to their class sizes starting in kindergarten.

"There have to be long-term ramifications of being in these huge classes at a young age," she said. "I just find some of these numbers disturbing, but I'm just one person."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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