Elementary Enrollment Could Affect Grade Sections
District works to conform to policy that calls for 23 or fewer students per class.
The Montville Township school district is looking to alter the grade sections available at three of its five elementary schools for the 2012-13 school year based on projected enrollment, Superintendent Dr. Fried announced during the board of education meeting Tuesday.
Applying the board’s policy of capping individual classrooms at 23 students for grades K-3, Fried discussed plans for the district to change the grade sections at William Mason Elementary School, Cedar Hill Elementary School and Hilldale Elementary School. Fried said he wanted to address this problem now so that he and the administration can make all necessary changes by Aug. 1, the deadline the board set for making decisions to the policy.
Projections place William Mason’s first grade class at 47 students for two classrooms, which would leave one class at 23 and the other one student above cap at 24. The goal, Fried said, is to further split the grade into three classes of 16, 16 and 15.
As a result, William Mason would incur the cost of adding a formerly unbudgeted teacher position. Despite the added cost, Fried said he likes the idea of having smaller class sizes.
“Lower class size certainly can be advantageous in the primary grades,” Fried said, noting that many class size studies pinpoint 18 and below as the suggested amount of students at the early education level for effective teaching.
Although Cedar Hill’s projected second grade enrollment of 71 would put two of its three classes slightly over the limit, the school’s lower-than-normal kindergarten enrollment number of 38 negates the need for a projected third kindergarten class. Therefore, adding another second grade class – bringing class numbers to 18, 18, 18 and 17 – allows the school to adhere to the policy while breaking even financially.
Hilldale has a similar second grade situation with 71 projected students. However, in speaking with the school’s principal Marianne Dispenziere, Fried said there are no rooms available to accommodate another class.
Board member Charles Grau suggested waiving the policy at Hilldale for the upcoming school year, while member Jackie Ritschel suggested appealing to Morris County’s executive superintendent to allow for aides in those second grade classes. The same board policy – last revised in February – allows for aides at the first through third grade levels when classes have at least 22 students. However, Fried said that practice was abandoned because it was not supported by the county.
Board Member Michael Palma’s suggestion to balance out the enrollments of both Hilldale and Woodmont Elementary School, which along with Valley View Elementary School currently meets enrollment policy standards, piqued the interest of both the superintendent and the board. Palma explained that students who live in the nearby apartments are split between Hilldale and Woodmont, depending on transportation availability. Therefore, Palma suggested any new students to the district who had been scheduled to go to Hilldale can be switched to Woodmont, which is currently projected to three second grade classes of 18 students each.
“I’m in agreement, provided [the students] are new to the district and haven’t been in a particular school,” Ritschel said. “You don’t want to disrupt their learning or separate siblings.”
In return, Palma said new families in the district who had been scheduled for kindergarten at Woodmont could be switched to Hilldale, which has lower kindergarten enrollment numbers.
Fried said he liked the idea in theory and will work with Business Administrator James Tevis to identify potential switches.
“[Board member Palma’s suggestion] would, in fact, solve one problem and potentially another,” Fried said.
As a note for all potential grade section alterations, board member Charles Grau warned that, in years past, students have been double-booked at a district school and a private school. If those families ultimately opt for the private school, he said, those enrollment numbers could potentially decrease.
“It would be embarrassing to open a school room [to accommodate] three sections and, all of a sudden, you only have 39 kids,” Grau said.
Fried acknowledged this as a possibility but said he has been following the enrollment numbers closely with each school’s principal for the past few months.