Jill Fayan’s oldest son is currently in fifth grade at in a class of 25. Her younger son is going to be going into fifth grade next year, which will be a class of 24.
“I’m a teacher myself, I definitely have some insight on managing a class of that size,” Fayan said. “There are just too many children.”
Fayan “likes and respects” her son’s teacher, and thinks she is doing the best she can. But the class is just too large, and somebody had to say something so the administration and Board of Education know it is a priority, she said.
She met with Superintendent Jerome Belair, which she said provided little relief or closure. She and her husband also started a petition, and after collecting 61 signatures submitted it to the Board of Education.
Last year, the Board of Education had to as they faced large increases in health insurance and employee salaries. Fayan attended those meetings, and while she wasn’t happy they were eliminating fifth-grade teachers to balance the budget, she accepted it.
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“I wasn’t happy, but I understood it,” Fayan said. “I just thought it was going to be a one-year, temporary solution.”
This year, the Board of Education did not address fifth grade. The board actually cut two positions at the elementary school in younger grades, while adding a literacy specialist at the high school, beefed up the learning through service program, found a way to bring the talented and gifted program back into the middle school day for no cost and reinstated freshmen sports.
“They brought back other things,” Fayan said. “But it seemed like they didn't pay attention to fifth grade.”
Fayan also said when the elementary schools were consolidated from five to three, former superintendent Randall Collins promised that class sizes would stay reasonable. Now, class sizes have ballooned to 24 students in fifth grade, she said.
“I feel like a promise was broken,” Fayan said. “And this isn’t just about my children. I don’t want any child to go through class sizes this large. I just felt like I had to speak out against it.”
Districts Reaction/Class Numbers
In a Tuesday interview with Belair, the superintendent said fifth grade “is a hot spot.” Facing a tight budget, the district decided to focus on keeping kindergarten through third grade classes small, he said.
“The highest priority went to primary classes, which are kindergarten through third grade,” said Belair, who said he had some “healthier class sizes” in fourth and fifth grade.
Kindergarten, first grade and second grade in all three elementary schools will have class sizes of 20 or less next year, and fourth grade will have class sizes between 18 and 22, he said. Fifth grade has more students, and it will have class sizes between 23 and 24 next year, after having class sizes as large as 25 this year, he said.
“I agree with them, I would love to have smaller class sizes,” Belair said. “But our focus this year was on balance and restraint… Though it is something we will continue to monitor throughout the school year.”
To have smaller class sizes and avoid massive redistricting, the district would have to hire another elementary school teacher at all three elementary schools, according to Belair. Meanwhile he said adding the literacy specialist at the high school instead of trying to lower fifth-grade class sizes was a “Sophie’s choice,” but said the literacy specialist fills a need at the high school.
Fayan knows that the budget is tight, and admits she doesn’t know what the solution is. But she does know if she doesn't talk about it, and bring it up to the Board of Education, it will go unnoticed and unfixed.
“At least I want to get people talking about it,” Fayan said. “If I didn’t speak about it, (the Board of Education) might of spend (money in the budget) somewhere else. I just wanted them to know that this is the number one priority.”