School Board Explores Increasing Class Sizes
The latest news from the Upper St. Clair School Board.
The Upper St. Clair School District is researching what—if any—classrooms it can increase in size to save money on staffing.
Administrators presented information to the school board Monday night.
"We're not talking about increasing class size because we want to, but because we might need to," said Rebecca Stern, school board president.
A class size policy adopted in 1967 and last revised in 1986 recommends maximum class sizes for kindergarten and first grade be 25 students, 27 in second grade, 30 in grades three through 12, with an exception to keep class size at 25 for advanced and AP classes.
However, assistant Superintendent Sharon Suritsky said, "We're asking teachers to do more than when the policy was last revised in '86."
In 2006, administrators and the board decided to try to keep classrooms in kindergarten, first and second grades at less than 20 students.
Currently, the average elementary classroom size is 18.9 in kindergarten, 20.8 in first grade, 21.6 in second grade, 24.5 in third grade and 23.2 in fourth grade.
At Boyce Middle School, the average class size for fifth grade is 27.5 and 25.8 for sixth grade.
At Fort Couch Middle School, 28.4 is the average class size for seventh grade and 25.3 for eighth.
Average class sizes in the high school were not presented. There are nearly 300 course offerings at the high school.
Student representative Michael Boyas, a senior at the high school, said he thinks lecture-based classes like math or science might be able to increase in size, but it wouldn't be good for discussion-based classes like English and foreign languages.
Elise Boyas, a professor at Pitt's business school, spoke during the residents' comment time at the end of the board meeting. She said she successfully teaches a class of 140 students with the help of assistants that can help her grade exams within three days.
She also said she has an effective case study class with 19 students.
Elise said her son has 29 students in one of his IB English classes and the teacher is unable to turn around papers quick enough and had to have some students come in on their day off for oral exams.
"Some teachers have too much work because of the size of the classes," she said.
But she encouraged the board to look for new ways to increase some class sizes and bring in more classroom support.
Judy Bulazo, director of literacy, assessment and professional development, said she's been looking at class size research and results vary. Most research shows positive results for decreasing class size, however class size alone doesn't improve students' learning. The way the teacher teaches is critical.
Bulazo said there is little research that has been done on increasing class sizes.
Administrators are looking for ways to not have to replace retiring teachers. For example, one of the three Spanish teachers in the elementary schools is retiring. Bulazo said administrators are looking at possibly using two teachers across three buildings.
Bulazo also said administrators have been looking at online products that teach Spanish, but reading proficiency is needed for most.
"We're not ruling out any ideas," she said.
Middle Schools Renovation Project Shortfall
The board approved using a $351,000 settlement the district received from Wells Fargo and $115,000 from the general fund to cover the shortfall encountered during the middle schools renovation project.
Frosina Cordisco, business manager, said she plans on waiting to use the money from the general fund until the project is officially complete. There may be some unexpected savings.
John Bornyas, the retired director of operations, community relations and special projects who is now working under contract with the district, said he hopes the project's punch list is completed by the end of April and that the Fort Couch Middle School athletic field will be finished in July.
No late fees will have to be paid to the contractor.
Open Microphone Meeting on Budget
Superintendent Patrick O'Toole said he was pleased with the PTA's open microphone meeting March 14 that was focused on the budget.
He said nearly 70 people attended.
The meeting began with a 40-minute presentation from O'Toole, Suritsky and Cordisco. They then took questions for about an hour and a half.
Many audience members voiced their concern about negotiations with the teacher union. The commenters said teachers must contribute more to health care and should be willing to give up salary increases due to the economy.
"I think it would go a long way if teacher contributed a little more," said Mary Repischak, who is a former teacher.
O'Toole said negotiations are currently under way, but he was not allowed to reveal any details.
Another hot topic from March 14 was athletics.
The district spends $1 million on its sport programs, with $150,000 used to pay the athletic director, his assistant and his secretary.
"We get a lot of bang for our buck," O'Toole said. "We have more sports than any other district in WPIAL."
He said there has been no decrease in athletic participation since the pay-to-play fees were introduced at the beginning of the school year. The district received $60,000 in fees.
O'Toole said the administration is looking at developing similar fee structures for other school activities.
"We want to thank Mr. Miller for his time there," O'Toole said.
McClintock-Comeaux is currently the principal of Stephen C. Foster Elementary School in the Mt. Lebanon School District.
He is an Upper St. Clair High School graduate and was a teacher and curriculum leader in the Upper St. Clair School District from 1995 to 2001.
O'Toole received the Distinguished Educator Award for the University of Pittsburgh’s Tri‐State Area School Study Council.
O’Toole received the award on March 22 at the 64th Annual School Board and
Distinguished Educator Banquet. The award honors those individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the field of public education.
O’Toole was nominated for the award by Dr. R. Gerard Longo, Associate Professor and Senior Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.
Michael Boyas, Mariah Doohan, Cassie Fowler and Ben Reicher all received certificates and a gift card to use in the cafeteria.
What are your thoughts on classroom size? Please tell us in the comments below.
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