Our view: Class size vote correct

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At issue

Managing class size in Steamboat schools

Our view

Superintendent should lead implementation of policy that guides enrollment, staffing.

Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The Steamboat Springs School Board was correct last week to keep administrative control of class-size policy in the hands of the superintendent.

The issue of class size has for years been contentious in Steamboat Springs, a city blessed with parents who are highly involved in the educational growth and development of their children. That level of parental involvement, coupled with excellent administrators, teachers and staff, has created an environment of outstanding public schools that consistently rank in the top tiers of state educational standards.

Those high expectations fuel the class-size debate, which is about no less than how to best serve our children in the classroom.

The 134 people who signed a petition submitted to the School Board last week supported setting a maximum class size through policies controlled by the School Board. The current class-size policy is met through student-to-teacher ratios - 19-to-1 in Steamboat's public elementary schools and 18-to-1 in its secondary schools. But those ratios are averages that include all the teachers in a given school, as Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham noted, and can lead to misunderstandings about the class-size policy.

Some classes can have more students than the ratio states, while others have fewer. Students in classes with 20 or more of their peers, some parents argued, might not receive as much specialized, individual attention as they need to excel. Placing a cap on class size could seem like a logical solution.

But, there are many more variables in the equation.

Every classroom, just like every student, is different. Teacher aides, parent volunteers, district paraprofessionals and, most important, teachers, all significantly can change the dynamic of a classroom.

So can the desires and wide-ranging interests of students. Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said last week that capping class size would cause a trade-off in the number of programs offered in local schools.

We share that concern and feel think offering a diverse array of programs to students is, in many ways, as important as maintaining small class sizes.

A bored student can have a huge impact on a class of 10, whereas 30 interested, engaged students can thrive with just one teacher.

Fortunately, Steamboat Springs has a great ability to meet many of those needs, thanks to several factors. The recently renewed Steamboat Springs Education Fund generates and allocates hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for teachers and staff that support small class sizes. The Education Fund also pays for numerous programs and services that enrich students' education.

Steamboat Springs has a wonderful network of parent volunteers who provide invaluable help in local schools. And city voters now are reaping the benefits of a brand-new Soda Creek Elementary School, passed at the ballot in 2006.

Steamboat Springs schools have the staffing, leadership and facilities to provide the best educational environment for our children. But, that environment needs flexibility and the oversight of a strong superintendent and the district's administrative team.

Capping class size, or putting it under the control of a frequently changing School Board, would be misguided decisions with unintended consequences.

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