Parents Raise Concerns About Class Size

A group of parents asked the Mattapoisett School Committee at its meeting Monday night about the impact of a teacher cut and a potential elementary school choice program on sixth-grade class sizes at Old Hammondtown Elementary.

Recalling a similar class-size increase in recent years, parent Penny Cole said there was “lots of waiting and some discontentment among the kids.” Cole expressed concern about a fiscal year 2014 cut from four teachers to three, bringing the number of students in each section closer to the mid-20s.

“We’re also concerned about where you’re headed on school choice,” Cole said. “What is going to be the cutoff point for individual class size?”

School Committee Chair James Higgins replied that as a parent of a sixth-grader himself, he is “very sensitive to the issue of class size,” and that the “unwritten rule of thumb is 22 [students] or less” capping class sizes.

“All of the conversations about school choice have centered around not negatively impacting class size,” Higgins said, adding that while he is “conflicted” about the looming school choice issue, he is in favor of the program, saying that it could change the lives of some students while bringing in a “small net gain.” Levels of support vary from other committee members leading up to the public hearing at the Old Rochester Regional School District Committee meeting on April 10 at ORR High School.

ORR Superintendent Doug White said that “anything over 25 is an indicator … that would require an adjustment. We will continue to monitor this situation and continue to provide communication.”

One parent commented that the district’s elementary schools are “right on this edge. I just wonder about the big picture.”

OHS Principal Matt D’Andrea emphasized his “complete confidence in the teachers’ ability to reach all of the learners in the classes.” He added that there is an “effective model in place. No student’s education will be compromised.”

When committee members asked parents whether they would support school choice under any circumstances, Stefan Gabriel responded that he would if the program would bring with it a proportionate number of new teachers and paraprofessionals in the face of rising class sizes.

“I’m opposed to it,” he continued, “if it brings more students with the same number of teachers that we have, placing an extra burden on our teaching resources.”

Also discussed on Monday were the advantages and disadvantages of Mattapoisett – along with Marion and Rochester – adopting a full-day kindergarten program and phasing out half-day K altogether. While concerns once again centered around class size, the committee was in general enthusiastic about the curricular and financial gains that the shift could bring. Although the first year of “Full Day K” would cost the district upward of $25,000, state incentives would erase that deficit and bring with it additional revenue as soon as year two, according to White. Assistant Superintendent Elise Frangos, who made the evening’s presentation, said that discussions will continue.

Elsewhere on the agenda:

OHS sixth-grader Carly O’Connell was recognized for placing first nationwide in the SIFMA Foundation’s InvestWrite® student essay competition.

The committee discussed the Facilities Director’s report on the progress of repairs on the Center Elementary clock tower.

Frangos and Director of Technology Ryan McGee reported on the Mattapoisett Professional Development Needs Assessment.

Center Principal Rose Bowman commended the third-grade class on its preparation for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, while D’Andrea announced that OHS’s gold-medal-winning band would play at Boston Symphony Hall on April 13 at 10:30am.

By Shawn Badgley

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