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Concerned WES parents seek smaller 3rd-grade classes this fall

June 04, 2014
WHITEFIELD — Some 35 moms and dads, all parents of some of the 51 students enrolled in the two second grade classes at the Whitefield School, attended the Tuesday, May 27, WMRSD school board meeting to ask that a way be found to come up with three smaller, more manageable third-grade classes come September.

Former WES art teacher Michelle Overhoff served as an informal spokesperson and delivered a collectively written letter on behalf of the youngsters in the District's Class of 2024. Parents asked the board to "address the high classroom enrollment numbers, student-to-teacher ratios, safety and supervision concerns, as well as respectful and equitable educational opportunities for the children presently enrolled in this large cohort of students."

The parents wrote, "Several studies have been done across the country with data that supports a direct relationship between smaller class size and student achievement."

Furthermore, they stated, "The present class size for our children in second grade currently exceeds the recommended NH State Board of Education Administrative Rules." The state-recommended number is higher for third grade classes, however, one board member noted.

The parents' letter also said that they hoped the board and administration seriously consider reducing class size for these youngsters "into more manageable numbers for the next school year in the interest of both safety and academic achievement."

After listening to the parents in front of them, the board asked SAU #36 Interim Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom to bring forward one or more recommendations at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 9, at WMRHS.

The class — part of the unexpectedly large kindergarten "bubble" in 2011 — started its first-grade year at 44 students in WES on Oct. 1, 2012.

By Oct. 1, 2013, the number had grown to a total of 47 students for second-grade teachers Kelly Styles and Linda Bennion.

By mid-year the total rose 54 and then it fell back to 51.

A number of possible solutions were discussed by the board and FEnsom, ranging from buying or renting a temporary classroom unit or units that would allow a third third-grade classroom to be created by fall. For a variety of reasons, however, there is no obvious safe place to place such a structure on the WES grounds.

Space could be "found" within the existing building by vacating the art room, making this Unified subject into an "Art on a Cart" experience.

If the kindergarten enrollment remains low — it's now only at 16 — then an extra classroom would be created — at least for a year.

Parents of kindergarten students across the District, but especially at WES, are being asked to register their youngsters as soon as possible.

Or the recently adopted separation of reading and writing into discrete subjects in the middle school years could be dropped, freeing up a classroom.

Or parents could voluntarily agree to transfer their children to the Lancaster or Jefferson Schools under the District's open enrollment policy.

Several parents complained that the number of second-graders in each of the two classrooms hampers individual attention and the ability of students to ask questions; results in excessive, distracting noise; and is at the root of growing behavioral problems.

Already long bus rides and too much "butt-time" with only one 20-minute recess a day discourages parents from seeking to transfer their kids to less crowed classrooms, as well as worry about the potential for emotional trauma.

Another parent said that maintaining low-class sizes across the District might help to halt Cos County's "chronic out-migration."

One parent added that it might be time to consider reorganizing the elementary schools, designating one for primary grades and the other for middle-school grades, which likely would help smooth out "birth-year bubbles."

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