District to add teachers, reduce class size

teachers_handsraisedA lengthy conversation about class sizes and new teacher hires took place at the March meeting of the Milaca School Board before the members approved several measures to decrease the student/teacher ratio at the elementary level.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, two teachers told the board the large class sizes at the third grade and kindergarten levels were worrisome. Keith Anderson, who teaches science at the seventh and eighth grade level, said as a parent himself, the potential of having 28-30 students in a class was not acceptable.

“I know you guys are strapped for money, but we need decisions that make sense,” he told the board. “Those are some pretty important years for those kids.”

Anderson also said the large class sizes may be driving families away from the district.

“Are we losing kids because of those high numbers?” he said. “It only takes a couple kids to pay for a teacher and likewise — it only takes a couple kids to lose a teacher.”

Board member Mark Herzing mentioned a Brookings Institute study that recommended no more than 26 students in the lower elementary grades and member Jody Chambers also voiced concern about large class sizes.

“When this year’s graduating class was in first grade, they were in a class of 17,” Chambers said. This year’s first-graders are in rooms of about 22 students. “We need to trend back to that.”

By the end of the meeting, the board approved to hire two additional full time teachers at the elementary level, with member Todd Quaintance voting against one of the hires. All other members voted in favor of both hires.

“Whether or not the addition of two teachers are enough to address the issue of increasing class sizes here in Milaca, I believe it is a step in the right direction,” Anderson said later in the week.

Elementary School Principal Steve Voshell said the demand for more teachers has been driven by a larger than usual kindergarten class. At 62 students, it’s nearly 20 pupils more than last year’s kindergarten class. Voshell said the new hires will most likely be for first grade, to accommodate that larger class, and for fourth grade, which has seen class sizes creep up to that 30-mark.

For the full story, see the Thursday, March 28 print edition of the Times.