Shenandoah schools crowded but within state rules

A class size report discussed at Thursday’s Shenandoah County Public Schools meeting shows the county schools are crowded but are still within state regulations.

“Yes. They are crowded,” Superintendent Mark Johnston said.

The study shows that the district elementary schools have the largest class sizes.

When compared to the state, the class sizes of eighth through twelfth grades in the county are much higher than Virginia averages and kindergarten through fifth grade classes are much lower, Johnston said.

“They are lower because the Virginia average is typically driven by the large school divisions of Fairfax, Virginia Beach, Loudoun, Prince William and others. There elementary class sizes are approximately 30 percent higher than our K-5 per state data,” Johnston said.

Student-teacher ratio and average class size in 2015-2016 in eighth through twelfth grade for Virginia is 12.47 students per teacher. In Shenandoah county that same ratio is 14.56 per teacher, 17 percent higher than the state average.

Virginia requires a student-teacher ratio of 24 to 1 in kindergarten with no class being larger than 29, a student-teacher ratio of 24 to 1 in first to third grades with no class larger than 30, a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1 in fourth to sixth grade with no class larger than 35 and a 24 to 1 ratio in sixth through twelfth grade English classes.

A breakdown of Shenandoah County high schools shows  Central High School has an average of 18.5 students per class; Strasburg High School has an average of 17.9 students per class;  Stonewall Jackson High School has an average of 17.6 students per class;  and Triplett Tech has an average of 11.7 students per class.

A breakdown of Shenandoah County Middle Schools shows Peter Muhlenberg Middle School has an average of 17.5 students per class; North Fork Middle School has an average of 14.2 students per class;  and Signal Knob Middle School has an average of 15.2 students per class.

A breakdown of Shenandoah County Elementary Schools shows W.W. Robinson Elementary has an average of 19.4 students per class; Sandy Hook Elementary has an average of 20.5 students per class and Ashbee Lee Elementary has an average of 20.8 students per class.

Education for students in early grades is extremely important to setting up successful academic careers. Studies show students do better in smaller class sizes for those grades.

“We strive to keep our K- third grade numbers lower,” Johnston said.

The school system strives for an average class size of 18 in those grades.  Administrators monitor classes closely. If class sizes reach 22 or more they try to find a solution which, typically, would involve adding a teacher but that depends on available resources. Otherwise, the district has to consider creative solutions specific to the circumstances at that school.

Virginia has a k-3 class size initiative designed to keep class size smaller by providing some additional funding to school systems that are able to keep classes below a certain figure that is based on a formula that involves a school’s free and reduced lunch rate. In Shenandoah County that figure is an average size of 19 with no k-3 class of more than 24 students.

The numbers can be misleading, said David Hinegardner, Director of Middle and Secondary Education at Shenandoah County Public Schools.

Class size ratio only considers teachers who teach a class on a full time basis and does not include resource personnel, such as special education teachers, principals, librarians and aides.

“There are many moving parts that go into a number that represents how many students are in a teacher’s classroom,” Hinegardner said. “In almost all cases, each moving part is in response to a different moving part. These moving parts are often difficult to see, which is why class sizes are sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted.”

The schools have one aide available to help each kindergarten teacher.

“While the majority of their time is in kindergarten, they do assist grades 1 and 2 teachers with reading,” Johnston said.

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