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Parents Protest Waterford’s Class Sizes

61 People Sign Petition Saying They Are Opposed To Waterford’s Large Fifth-Grade Classes

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.

History

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.”

Michele May 30, 2012 at 11:41 AM
The Board of Ed. should address this - these kids are off to the middle school next year and should get the same attention as the younger kids! i think the BOE should reporioritize - I see police cars at that school almost daily to address behavioral issues and with larger class sizes kids can just get out of hand!
Waterford Rez May 30, 2012 at 12:41 PM
It's pretty simple: More teachers mean higher taxes. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Raise taxes for more teachers, people flip out. Cut teachers to keep taxes low, people flip out. We are not talking about a small amount of $$$ here either like if the town should buy a new lawn mower. Every teacher hired (or fired) is salary, benefits, retirement and healthcare.. That is a lot of $$$ per teacher. a LOT. 20 teachers is probably around $2 million a year. That is well over a mil rate. No one will be happy. People without children will, just as strongly, object to new teachers, stating their taxes are high enough. What's a town to do........
Waterford Rez May 30, 2012 at 12:44 PM
BTW, comparing this problem to a woman who had to choose which child of hers the Nazi's would send to the gas chambers is just a tad extreme.
Paul Petrone (Editor) May 30, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Just a counter to that. The district found a way to bring back the middle school TAG program at no cost, first as an after-school program and now for next year as part of the school day, after people went to the Board of Education meetings and demanded they bring back TAG. The district, from the input it received, made it a top priority and found a solution that works for everybody. In other words, sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So by starting a petition and saying something about it, the parents let the administration and Board of Education know this is something they really need to address. And maybe there is no way to do it without any cost, but if money does free up, the board will have some direction on where to allocate the funds. Or perhaps there is some way to make it better in a creative way, much like the district did with TAG (less likely with this situation, but who knows). But if nobody said anything, it is almost like everybody is okay with it.
Momof2 May 30, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Does it surprise anyone that the "promises" Dr. Collins made are not being kept? He said whatever the people wanted to hear, just so he could get his 3 schools.
Waterford Rez May 30, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Paul, good points, but I made an effort to emphasize the magnitude of hiring more teachers. TAG, freshman sports and other small programs is like deciding if you want pin-striping on your new $45,000 F-350. Hiring more teachers is deciding if you want the $7,500 diesel option. Way bigger impact on the check you are writing. If you tell the dealer you don't want to pay anymore, then the dealer says fine, no 4 wheel drive, no A/C, no automatic transmission and no radio. Congratulations, you have a diesel. You leave the dealer cursing and throwing things and vow to never come back. The fact that they could reinstitute those programs with no impact on the budget shows how SMALL of an issue it really was. Also, TAG and freshman sports don't bring along their buddies called benefits, FICA, healthcare, and retirement contributions. And they are not represented by unions. It comes down to really grasping the magnitude of the situation and the balancing act each town, city, state and fed gov must do. As Spock often said: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". What Spock never talked about was how "needs" are defined. What are truly our needs as a town and as residents? Ask 1,000 Waterford taxpayers what our needs are and you will get 1,000 different answers.
Waterford Rez May 30, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I'm not saying I have an answer, not even close. However, unlike many, I have read John Sheehan's post closely. He lays it out pretty clear. A rational and objective person must conclude that these types of changes will either raise taxes or cut services. Neither seems acceptable to the public.
stamposter May 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
When I graduated from 8th grade in 1957 (St Joseph School) we had 42 students. I might add that we all received a top notch education.
Waterford Rez May 30, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Very, very interesting article in NY Times that addresses this exact issue globally. 24.3 students is the average US classroom size. Ironically, three countries that absolutely kick our but in education have considerably larger classrooms: Japan, China and Korea http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/class-size-around-the-world/ We could talk for days why they are producing brilliant hard working citizens why we are producing kids completely unprepared for anything, including hard work. This includes our college grads too (for the most part).
Paul May 31, 2012 at 12:52 AM
There is no easy fix to this issue! First, I believe the BOE does have an established ceiling as to the most amount of students a class should have in it. Second, Mr. Belair is aware that the fifth grade is a hot spot. Third, WFTD REZ. is correct about average class size. Fourth, the student census is down by over 70 students this year and for comparison the E.L schools census is down by about 100 students. Fifth, the teachers make more than their counterparts in the surrounding districts and so do the administrators. So, even though I wish the class size in the fifth grade was smaller I believe that unless the BOE decreases the maximum number of students allowed per class there is no easy answer!
Cheryl L May 31, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Enrollment is down in Waterford and has continued to decline consistently since the plan for consolidation of of the elementary schools was adopted. I continue to challenge those who say we are laying off teachers and reducing staff because we do not have enough money to go back and look at the last few years of budgeted salaries and support staff wages and those actually paid at the end of the fiscal year. The BOE has consistently underspent the amount budgeted in that series and diverted funds to areas other than salaries and wages. Statements that Wtfd has reduced staff and had to eliminate freshman sports because there was not enough money is not supported by the numbers. Please restore my faith in Waterford's education system and prove me wrong.
Michele June 01, 2012 at 11:14 AM
In the article it states they hired a teacher and added back programs, they just did not allocate teachers to the 5th as promised to keep classes small, instead they added 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. It's about prioritizing with the money you have and as Paul stated if you don't raise the issue they'll continue to keep you low on the priority.
farm guy June 01, 2012 at 12:44 PM
You forgot to add that Waterford students (with Waterford teachers teaching them)also outscores "their counterparts in surrounding towns".
Holly Pierce June 11, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Here is another interesting article about Finland (ranked first in the world educationally) that discusses small science classes (16 students) among many other techniques that are vastly different then the United States high-stakes testing, constant ranking and comparison system we live with here in America. http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/82329/education-reform-Finland-US Educators, students, parents, administrators and taxpayers should further educate themselves about what works in other countries (and other areas in the U.S.) to develop a system that increases literacy, math and innovation skills for all of our students.

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