Frenship ISD class sizes are up during past two years
Class sizes at Frenship Independent School District have gone up over the past two years as a result of $7.5 million in cuts in state funding over the same period of time.
In the 2010-11 school year, elementary classes in FISD had an average of 19 students. Middle school and high school classes had an average of 16 and 20 students, respectively, per class in core classes of math, English, science and social studies in that same year, according to Assistant Superintendent of Administration Michelle McCord.
Last year, average class sizes rose to 21 at the elementary schools, 22 at the middle schools and 21 at the high school. This year, the average class size at elementary schools is 22, while middle school and high school classes have grown to 24 and 23, respectively, according to McCord.
“Our average class size is larger than it was a couple of years ago,” McCord said on Monday.
The district reduced staff through attrition even while seeing growth. This year, McCord said four kindergarten teachers and a third-grade teacher had to be added to keep FISD elementary classrooms below the state-mandated limit of 22 students per classroom in grades kindergarten to fourth grade.
McCord said the district was not always as concerned about the number of staff it has, because it had more money. But when school leaders foresaw budgetary issues, they began to set policies for maximum class sizes.
“Now that we are counting every penny, we need to be very careful about sticking to that formula,” she said, referring to the target numbers set by the district.
The district set an internal target number of 22 students per classroom in grades kindergarten through second, matching the state requirement. But McCord said it set a cap of 23 in third grade and 24 in fourth grade.
McCord said FISD had to request three class size waivers from the state, including one for a third-grade class at Westwind Elementary School and two for fourth-grade classrooms at Bennett Elementary School.
District officials are sympathetic with teachers and students in bigger classrooms.
“If you’re a classroom teacher, one more student can seem like a lot when you’re dealing with that many kiddos,” McCord said. More students per teacher means more papers to grade and more parents to contact.
“It’s stressful, and it’s more work,” she said. But she also said she does not want to make it seem as though Frenship teachers resent the extra work.
“It’s just a challenge,” she said.
McCord said the district also set a limit of no more than 30 students per core subject classroom in the middle and high school classes.
Some sections of a core subject might be just 19 students if the class is held while a large number of students are in athletics or band. Other classes at other times of the day might have 30 students.
The district is aiming to have an average of 24 students in math, science and English classes, and 26 students in social studies classes.
Cheryl Booher is the principal at North Ridge Elementary School, Frenship’s largest elementary school with a student population of 847 as of last week.
Booher said the biggest difference in class sizes to her is the management of classes such as art, music and physical education, where two classes might be combined. A few extra students in each class means a bigger impact on the special class instruction.
It also means more students are having to be supervised by fewer teachers in the hallways and in the cafeteria, Booher said.
“It’s just a little bit harder on the management end,” she said.
Fifth-grade class sizes are set at a maximum of 25 students per classroom, Booher said. The larger class size, combined with the larger bodies of fifth-graders as compared to smaller students in kindergarten through fourth grade, also makes it more difficult to have group activities in classrooms, she said.
“You wouldn’t think that three more per class would be a big deal,” she said, but she added that it is. “You can’t get up and do a lot of things.”
Overall, Booher said classroom instruction remains the same at North Ridge, because the classes kindergarten through fourth grade are the same size. The district has even hired a few extra tutors to help offset any problems with larger class sizes, Booher said.
She said students aren’t missing out on anything.
Planning for staffing for the coming school year begins in February, McCord said.
While a future legislative session may produce more money for schools, McCord said the district is not planning on that, so class sizes will likely remain higher.
“We’ll go by what we’ve gotten in the last couple of years to staff,” she said.
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