Could college model ease classroom shortage at Steamboat Springs High School?
October 13, 2017
Both candidates running unopposed this fall for Steamboat Springs School Board affirmed their preference Wednesday, for maintaining small class sizes in local schools. However, Mayling Simpson and Katy Lee agreed that they could envision students in the upper grades at Steamboat Springs High School attending larger lecture classes paired with small discussion groups, if that would ease the classroom crunch at the school.
The goal of keeping class sizes small in Steamboat's public schools is tantamount to a sacred trust among many parents in the school district.
The district's goals are to keep elementary school classes at no more than 20 students and middle and high school classes at 25. But those targets are often exceeded by one to three students. It's a challenge to adhere to the goals when, for example, the incoming fifth grade classes enroll in the fall and exceed forecasts, but not by enough to warrant adding a class and hire a teacher.
As of spring 2017, Steamboat's overall teacher-to-student ratio (which includes licensed staff as well as teachers) was lower than the state's average of 17.5-to-1, at 14-to-1. But ultimately, a shortage of classrooms may be the factor that makes Steamboat's goals unfeasible.
Lee said this week that increased mentorship of students in the schools could help offset the impact when class sizes are greater than the written goals. But in the case of older high school students, adapting a university model for some classes could also help.
"We have opportunities at the higher levels of the high school, to maybe have a bigger lecture and smaller labs, like the college format," she said.
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Simpson took a similar view: "I'd like to see our classes remain small," she said, "but if you're going to have to increase, I think you can do that at the upper levels."
She said online learning could also be a way to help schools address the challenges of balancing classroom sizes with limited teacher numbers and a scarcity of classrooms.
As recently as April, school board member Roger Good, whose seat is one of the two that will be filled by Simpson and Lee, pointed out during a school board meeting that adhering to goals of limited classroom size are more and more difficult to live up to and still balance the budget.
"Can we sustain this?" he wondered out loud. "My conclusion is we can't."
At that same school board meeting, Education Fund Board President Sam Jones reminded the board that the fund's financial support of the district is dependent on Steamboat Springs voters, who were promised small class sizes.
“It was, and remains a primary driver behind voter support,” Jones said, on behalf of his board.