DATA questions classroom crowding

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

DATA questions classroom crowdingConcerns about overcrowding of some classrooms within the Sierra Sands Unified School District were raised by Desert Area Teachers Association President Vanessa Vaughn-Springs, who addressed the Board of Education during the public comment portion of last Thursday’s meeting.

“Our district has been working to reduce class size, but there are a few classrooms where this is not the case — particularly fourth and fifth grades,” said Vaughn-Springs. She noted that a third of the classes in those grades are above the contractual limit of 32.

“What criteria are used to determine when a class is too large — only the monetary cost?” she asked. She said that research suggests that smaller class sizes lead to higher student achievement and better classroom management.

“Our purpose is to educate students to the best of our ability, and although we must balance all costs, this should be our first priority.”

She noted the disparity between class sizes across the district — which range from 35 at Gateway Elementary School to 23 at Pierce Elementary School.

Dr. David Ostash, assistant superintendent of human resources at SSUSD, said that the reason for larger class sizes in higher grade levels is the state provisions for kindergarten through third grades that allow the district to fund additional teachers. Targets at each school range from 24 to 24.5, and the district average is 23.42.

“We have to keep those ratios at or below targets in order to maintain our state funding,” said Ostash.

He pointed out that the average size of fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms across the district is 30.65 — well below the contractual limit of 32, though slightly higher than the state-recommendation of 30.

Finding a way to balance the classrooms can be tricky, he said.

“Historical data trends indicate that class sizes reduce as the year progresses,” he said.

“We are always reluctant to move students because, from a parent perspective, that is a very imposing decision. If I were to tell you that we are moving your kids to a different school, how kindly would you take that? For most people, that is not an ideal situation for their family.”

He noted that teachers are compensated for additional students in their classrooms, as outlined in the district’s contract with DATA.

“And we want to make any reasonable efforts we can to balance class sizes.”

Vaughn-Springs said that DATA does not have a preferred solution because the needs vary according to teacher and classroom. “I suggested the district open a dialogue with the teachers affected. That way everyone’s needs and concerns are heard and can be addressed in a mutually acceptable fashion.”

Story First Published: 2017-09-22