Board: Class sizes meet policy
Larger discussion seeks to determine appropriate balance
November 18, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Despite classes that can range up to 25 students at elementary schools, Steamboat Springs School Board members were told Monday that the district is meeting its policy of an average student-to-teacher ratio of 19-to-1.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the district is using “creative staffing,” including flex teachers, to keep the overall ration within policy. At Soda Creek Elementary School, flex teachers divide their time among the classes with higher enrollment. Two of the school’s classes have 25 students, and one has 24, Cunningham said.
The question raised by board members is how long the district should employ temporary fixes such as flex teachers before returning to more traditional measures to keep class numbers down.
The district long has discussed class sizes and has been making progress with each discussion, board member Laura Anderson said.
“When I came here tonight I thought, ‘We’re talking about this again? What’s the point?’ But every time you bring it to us, you’re making it a little more clear,” Anderson told Cunningham.
Cunningham’s report, which did not require action from the board, was the result of previous discussions and requests for more concrete data, she said.
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“I do hear from you occasionally and from parents that (class sizes) need to be smaller,” Cunningham said.
Melissa VanArsdale, a parent of two students in the district, told the board she would like to see smaller class sizes to enable more one-on-one instruction. VanArsdale said she has a daughter with special needs in a third-grade class with 25 students.
“I know adding a teacher or adding more staff could create an economic conflict, but I think it fades in comparison to our students’ education,” she said.
Along with the financial challenge of hiring additional teachers, the district also would be hard-pressed to find additional space at the elementary schools, Cunningham said.
There is one additional classroom available at each of the elementary schools.
Board members also agreed they should listen to parent input on what class sizes should look like in the district.
Board member Denise Connelly said by passing a renewal of the city’s half-cent sales tax, voters indicated they would like to see smaller class sizes.
“We’re talking about our policy here, but on the periphery is the half-cent sales tax and the promises” that accompany it, she said.
Connelly said voter information promoting the renewal of the half-cent sales tax touted small class sizes, so by voting for the tax, Steamboat Springs residents expressed their support of continued efforts to that end.
Board member Lisa Brown disagreed, saying the half-cent sales tax and the School Board should be kept separate.
“That is something we have to be very clear on, that is the Education Fund Board, and we are the Steamboat Springs School Board,” she said. “The language of the ballot did not include small class sizes.”
Brown also said the discussion of class sizes can be misleading when it is used as a substitute for educational quality.
“I think focusing on something like class size can be a little dangerous and waste time and not get to the real issue of education,” she said.
Brown said educational research indicates teacher quality has a larger impact on overall education than class size. Cunningham agreed, and at Anderson’s request, Cunningham will bring more information about educational research and secondary class sizes to a future meeting.
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