6 elementary schools could get clobbered

Parents at  Aiken, Braeburn, Bugbee, Duffy, Morley, and Norfeldt schools better wake up fast.

On the list of potential cuts are two that would create havoc for countless families and drastically reduce the education at each of the schools.

One proposal is to eliminate full-day kindergarten at each of the six schools, to save $713,750. There would still be half-day kindergarten there, but that’s not nearly as effective educationally and is obviously a greater burden on many working families.

In addition, those same six schools face the possibility of seeing their average class sizes rise by four students in each grade, which means some upper grade teachers could have 29 kids in the room instead of a maximum of 25. In the lower grades, the increase is from 23 to 27.

Anybody who’s read anything about educational achievement knows that smaller class sizes are crucial. At 27, the classes are nearly twice as big as they should be. That would be a body blow to West Hartford’s students — and to our reputation.

Parents — and others, of course — should be screaming that such a thing is even on the agenda.

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15 Comments

Filed under Aiken, Board of Education, Braeburn, budget, Bugbee, Duffy, education, Morley, Norfeldt, referendum, Schools, town council

15 responses to “6 elementary schools could get clobbered

  1. Kevin Sullivan

    I really do intend to honor my wife’s request that I stay out of the local blogoshere but….
    School parents and all taxpayers need to be heard when the School Board takes public comment this week. They need to demand that every possible non-classroom option be considered first and that includes disclosing every single recommendation made through the town administration for savings as well as why the school administration does or does not agree. It would be tragic, for example, if even one marginal administrative employee is kept on out of pure sentiment when a good educational program or service could be saved.
    Looking first to full-day kindergarten or QUEST is nonesense. The first assures and even start for all our kids and the second a chance for educational achievement that can otherwise turn to easily into furstrated failure. Similarly, reinvestment at Charter Oak and Smith is needed, although I wonder why it took so long to discover this “crisis.”
    But a word about class size. Now, I am not arguing for bigger classes but, with all due respect, there is not one single credible longterm study that correlates class size alone with educational performance. Not one. What we do know is that very big (well over 30 students) classes can create disciplinary challenges and are not so good where lab-style or other highly personalized teaching and learning are to take place. But modest class size is not an educational issues in general instruction and especially as students in general education courses progress. Anyone been in a first or second year UConn lecture hall lately? Diversity of offerings or special support — not to mention budgets — are way too often sacrificed on the alter of class size. Unfortunately, our one-size-fits-all view of schooling tends to push class size as the least common denominator when flexible class size is the real issue.
    There is, however, one other real “size” issue consistently shown to be related to educational performance. It’s school size, not class size. Big box schools, as the new Superintendent in Hartford has recently said so well, do not work educationally or behaviorally under any circumstances.
    Ok, now let’s see if I can take the blog cure for a bit. And whoever is telling Councilwoman Thornberry about my commentaries, thanks a lot! Now it’s off to the Memorial Day services.

  2. Joe Visconti

    Kevin
    Never stop blogging, you have way too much experience relevant to the issue’s to disengage.

    Hopefully readers here know that in this Wild West Sphere we all get to act like the looney citizens we are and must be to give so much time and effort to speak our mind on issues, some of us even walk the political plank for our convictions.

    Return to Subject:
    Has anyone polled the students to get their take on how they feel 5 more classmates in a class would affect their ability to learn and whether they think their education would be impacted?

  3. I am sure most of them would say that it depends which five kids get added.

  4. Joe Visconti

    Whdad
    You must have sat in the front row in class, you know where I sat, right? Go ahead say it.

  5. And I kept my chapstick handy, too? Not really, Joe. But in retrospect I know that my teachers tried pretty hard. With me perhaps they didn’t do their best work, but, hey, you can’t turn mud into marble.

  6. Kevin your wife has your best interest at heart… the blogosphere in a bit of an untamed realm. But I have to agree with Joe. While we would probably disagree on most subjects your absence from this or any forum would be a loss.

  7. Beads

    Thank you, Kevin. I agree, the BOE should be looking for cuts that would not effect the classrooms. Especially taking into consideration that the West Hartford Board of Education and the Superintendent’s office has expectations of our teachers to raise student CMT scores in the immediate future. (I refer to the BOE meeting that I attended back in the beginning of this school year where this issue was conveyed, by the education administration to the Board, to be a number one and immediate priority).

    No budget cuts are ideal, but maintaing the high quality of public education that this town is known for needs to be considered. Cutting back on and elimination of teacher positions, reading specialists, teacher’s aides, paraprofessionals, FTE’s, text books, software and technology should not be an acceptable solution to our budget crisis. Neither should elimination of other resources that directly effect the students in the form of programs and pupil services.

    I wonder if consideration has been given to offer retirement packages and incentives to those who are eligible? I know the town had done this a few years back with their employees. There must be 35 – 40 teachers within our schools who will be eligible for retirement in the near future. This group of tenure teachers could be offered a buy out package. Some, not all, would take the opportunity, thereby, opening positions to be offered to newer teachers with lower salaries while still retaining some experienced teachers. It seems this reduction in salaries would save the town a whole lot of money while maintaining the quality of our children’s education.

    Now, my comment about class sizes, an opinion I have formed over the last 8 years through conversations with teachers and school support staff at a variety of grade levels.

    Teachers I have spoken to are very concerned for their current and future students. I am aware of the research that concludes class size does not effect student learning and over all academic performance and am not qualified to dispute it and don’t intend to, but, I have also been told that here in West Hartford, one of the reasons some of our elementary, and our middle and senior high schools require one or more assistant principals is the need to address student discipline issues. This type of intervention is extremely important, but let’s remember the chain of discipline starts in the classroom. Teachers and their students are effected by the disruptions and interruptions in the form of a decrease in valuable learning time. Reduction of teachers and support staff, overcrowded classrooms, and raising class sizes adds to the teacher’s burden of maintaining class academic standards in addition to being the first line in defense of handling class discipline. I must make one more observation, and this is strictly conjecture, but, the Superintendent’s current class size numbers do not seem to reflect actual individual class sizes at all schools, but are more a reflection of a town wide average. There can be quite a difference in class size from school to school within the town, and there are too many classroom variables to assume an accurate count is ensured by seeking the average. I have often found at both of my children’s schools the superintendent’s published numbers (19 students per classroom) do not apply across the board. I have observed class sizes in the elementary school that have ranged from 19 or 20 students per classroom (great!) up to 27 students per classroom (the burden of this number of students can vary from year to year and classroom to classroom based on individual student issues). A teacher at the middle school has told me their class sizes are not below 22 to 24 students, a reasonable number, (I will allow there are most likely some exceptions to this) Pausing to remember the education administration has very high expectations of our teachers to raise the CMT scores, we must be concerned that if teachers are unable to reach and maintain higher overall academic performance due to the number of students in those classrooms, compounded by the already short times of each school period (another concern of our middle school teachers), that class size will effect our students. The most impacted group of students will be the very ones our administators are most concerned about.

  8. Thank you, Beads. The issue you raise in terms of bigger classes is spot-on. The more kids in the room, the more of them will be troublemakers. And the more troublemakers you have, the less learning goes on. Any of us who have seen our kids’ classes (and I’ve seen many now) recognize this reality. That’s why we pore over the classroom lists so carefully, hoping that X, Y or Z has a different teacher than our child. It’s not the numbers so much as not being in the same room as kids who gobble up a disproportionate share of a teacher’s limited time and attention.
    Joe, I imagine you were one of those kids!

  9. Osemasterofdoom

    Could we have some discussion of what short-term budget changes we can/should support in light of all this discussion? Frankly, while I feel duty-bound to attend tonight, I am at a loss as to what I should say, if anything at all.

  10. Joe Visconti

    Hey, from this trouble maker.

    Beads I must beg to differ, the discipline chain starts at home. Johnny get up and get ready for school, your going to be late.

  11. Kids are only troublemakers if you allow them to be troublemakers. However – I do not believe in larger class sizes anyway.
    And even as I agree with Kevin on this one (surprise!), I will also say that studies have also shown that more spending on education does not correlate with better performance or higher test scores.
    It’s all about how one allocates the resources.
    Throwing more money at a problem does not solve the problem. If you have a discipline problem then there are effective and efficient ways to deal with that without throwing more money and people at it.
    Short term budget changes?
    -Make Summer School and Continuing Ed self-sustaining programs
    -Cut administrative costs
    -Re-examine how many kids we are taking in the School Choice program, and what it is costing us
    -Has anyone looked at transportation costs and how they might be made more cost effective? How many late buses do we have anyway?

  12. Kevin Walsh

    Judy – I would like some clarification regarding how you propose to make summer school a self-sustaining program. Are you advocating that tuition be charged for attendance at summer school?

    I assume, and perhaps I am incorrect, that a significant percentage (if not a majority) of students who enroll in summer school do so to re-take a course that they did not pass during the preceding academic year. Would these students’ families face a tuition payment as well, even if the course they would take is required for advancement to the next grade?

    As you are an active and vocal member of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, I know I don’t need to tell you that many families in this town are already strapped. Should these families be required to pony up for summer school if their children do not pass a required course?

    I recognize that the prospect of facing a tuition payment for the make-up of a required course should be an additional incentive for parents to do what they can to ensure that their kids pass all of their classes the first time around. Nevertheless, there will doubtless be a number of families with children who have not passed a required course notwithstanding their parents’ best efforts. Some of these families will conclude that they cannot afford tuition for summer school. Will these kids simply have repeat the course (or the grade) in September? How much would that cost, and who would pay it?

    If you contemplate that tuition for required courses would be subject to some sort of “need-based” formula, what aspects of the families’ finances would be considered? How would the formula be applied, and by whom? If a family is unwilling or unable to pay whatever amount the formula dictates, what then? Would that mean, again, that the student simply repeats the course or grade in September? Some parents might conclude that the best thing for their child that fails a required course would be for the kid to take his or her lumps by repeating the course (or even the grade) in September. Leaving aside whether this would in fact be the best outcome for that child, would that save any money for the town?

    I recognize that I do not fully understand your proposal, and may even be misinterpreting it. Accordingly, I would be grateful if you could elaborate.

  13. turtle

    Hey, Judy, I thought you’d jump at the chance to elevate the debate! Mr. Walsh is so thoughtful and courteous.

    You could answer.

  14. interested

    Are you kidding? A couple classrooms at 29 kids is not a big deal. Lets say that you have two classrooms of 29 kids. That is 58 students that are going to have this devastating school experience. The precious reputation!! Let’s get real folks. If 58 kids are marginally affected this is NOT a big deal. I will offer my son to be in this class of 29 if you prefer.

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