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Elementary Class Sizes Hit Maximums at Tonawanda, Swanson

Elmbrook plans to have teaching assistants help fifth grade teachers instruct classes with 30 or 31 students.

A summer surge in elementary school enrollments has caused fifth grade classrooms at two Elmbrook schools to hit maximum desired class sizes.

The Elmbrook School District budgets for "placeholder" teaching positions to address such summer fluctuations — and thought six such placeholders would be enough, said Kristi Foy, district director of human resources.

Due to a larger than normal increase, it wasn't.

Swanson Elementary enrolled 59 new students between June 11 and the first day of school Tuesday.

"That's unprecedented," Foy said.

The surge prompted the district to add new sections for kindergarten, first and second grade at Swanson, hiring three teachers. At Tonawanda Elementary another third grade section was opened and at Dixon, another first grade class.

But that still left the fifth grades at Swanson and Tonawanda at the maximum desired class sizes.

Swanson's four fifth grade classes each had 30 students on the first day of school. Tonawanda's two fifth grade classes had 30 and 31 students.

The largest class size at Elmbrook's other three elementary schools was 27 students.

The School Board's Personnel Committee concurred Wednesday with an administrative recommendation that the district use instructional assistants to help the fifth grade teachers at Swanson and Tonawanda.

The cost would be $59,000, about half of which would be funded by reassigning already budgeted instructional assistant time, said Keith Brightman, assistant superintendent for finance, operations and human resources.

That compares to the approximately $195,000 it would cost to hire new teachers to add fifth-grade sections and lower class sizes to 20 or 24 students.

Creating new sections not only requires new classroom teachers but also more sections of specials such as art, music and physical education, Foy said.

Deciding when to break a class into two sections "is not an exact science," she said. It can depend on the specific children in the classes and and their individual needs. Sometimes a larger class size is not a problem; other times a split needs to be made.

"We do our best," Foy said, adding tha tteachers, parents and administrators all want to limit class sizes.

Superintendent Mark Hansen said he has heard from nine of the 61 families in Tonawanda's two fifth-grade classes.

Tonawanda Principal Alix Kasmarick sent parents a letter this week, saying she planned to move forward with the two classes of 30 and 31 students.

"With district support, we were able to assign a teacher-certified Instructional Assistant to both rooms during reading and math, which will help us differentiate and meet the needs of all students," Kasmarick said. "We are confident that ... each child's needs will be met."

New student enrollments, June 11 to Sept. 4:

59: Swanson
13: Tonawanda
13: Burleigh
  8: Brookfield Elem
  3: Dixon

samantha brojanac September 06, 2012 at 12:15 PM
i believe I told the Board at one of the many school closing meetings that this would happen. There are far to many houses for sale and they are all selling now.
Kathy Vincent September 06, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Seriously, how can any professional educator say, "We are confident that ... each child's needs will be met" when they are not hiring licensed teachers for classroom increases such as this? Where is the additional state money going from these 96 additional students? My quick calculations indicate that the district will take in at least $643,000 from these students. I sure hope that the extra money will not be used to pay for administrative salaries. Welcome to Wisconsin where educating our children is no longer a priority. Parents...it's time for you to make some noise and advocate for your children.
Patricia Carpentier Poquette September 06, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Really?!? Let's all pretend we never saw that coming. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
Nils Anderson September 06, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I couldn't agree more with samantha, the board has repeatedly gotten enrollment wrong and openly admitted a goal of closing yet more neighborhood schools and opting for "four mega schools model" under the guise of conservatism and economic sensibility. I believe Elmbrook school district to be the educational crown jewel of our fine state and the reason we choose to live in it. But it achieved this success through 40+ years of excellence of faculty and manageable classroom sizes i.e. the “neighbor hood schools model”, and it was all achieved with larger enrollments and less money. Not with “Mega Schools and assistant teachers” So the result of these board proposed changes is exactly what the obvious would suggest to any rational person “good money after bad” as yes there was cost associated with downsizing and now unbudgeted expenses to provide damage control for the inflexibility their invention predictably now demonstrates. The only thing left is for the quality of education to take a measurable drop. What this latest failure is evidence of isn’t partisan or ideological, it’s simply poor management no matter what you call it. Shouldn't an increase in enrollment be considered a good thing? nanderson26@wi.rr.com
Jackie September 06, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Thirty-plus students per classroom? You hear about these class sizes in poor communities! Are we talking about Elmbrook?? I'm fine with my children being moved to Swanson, but to think that our top-tier school system can't afford to hire more teachers so our kids can have more reasonable class sizes is shameful.
Eric September 06, 2012 at 07:28 PM
How about some reporting about minimum ventilation requirements for these classrooms, are they designed for 33 people? Is my school going to make my kid sick?
Julie September 06, 2012 at 08:49 PM
A big "we told you so" to the board. I also predict an expensive remodel to reopen hillside in the future. How do these board members keep getting re-elected? And I don't think the school administration would survive in the private sector due to incompetence. So far my sons transition to Brook El has been difficult, namely due to the transportation and overcrowding issues we brought up to the board.
Julie September 06, 2012 at 09:00 PM
The bus has bee ridiculous. I don't think 14-22 minute delays are reasonable. My child is one of the last stops. They allow 3 to a seat which I think is unrealistic. Yesterday my son fell out of the seat when the bus turned the corner.
Michelle September 06, 2012 at 10:36 PM
My son has a 40 minute bus ride!!! Ridiculous ! His class has 28 students and there are 5 with learning disabilities. How on earth can 1 teacher handle this? Elmbrook board members should be ashamed!
Julie September 06, 2012 at 11:11 PM
But our new superintendent says things are going great from his point of view. I wish the board members and Gibson would have to live the day to day consequences of what they created.
Colleen September 07, 2012 at 01:18 AM
I just read this article and burst out laughing. I have 47 students in my K-4 classroom with no assistant. So now you parents in the burbs are complaining and ranting because it is happening to YOUR child now. Thank your choice of governor for cutting education funds. It will only get worse....oh that's right you didn't care before its only the children in poverty will suffer......
Kirsten Lee September 07, 2012 at 01:24 AM
My kids went to Burleigh and rode three to a seat for years. The buses are always delayed at the beginning of the year as drivers learn new routes. My kids had classes at Burleigh with 28-29 kids. Students from the less populated schools (like Hillside and Tonawanda) are experiencing what many of other district students have for years. It will be an adjustment but it will work. I applaud the administration for not hiring another teacher because we are 1 child over the maximum in one 5th grade class.
Julie September 07, 2012 at 02:01 AM
We chose our subdivision because of our neighborhood school and I feel fortunate that my kids were able to attend. Just because large classes and crowded buses were the norm for other district kids doesn't mean that it's right. I don't think 1 student over the limit makes much difference but the board has discussed having class sizes of 34-35. They will keep pushing and pushing until we do have a situation like Collen mentioned above.
Jeffery September 07, 2012 at 02:56 AM
The new superintendent should find the money to hire more teachers to lower class sizes. Hanson is over his head in this job with all his plans and new administrators. We are paying this guy one of the highest salaries in the Milwaukee area and he can't find the money for teachers. This is just the start of the decline of Elmbrook.
Jill berger September 07, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Colleen- thanks for your letter. I so agree. Thank the governor who will continue to destroy education, services for people who are poor, old, disabled, unemployed, sick, and the list goes on. He was strives to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. The level of entitlement that he and his followers exhibit is shameful. And so many peoplebuy into it even though they will suffer for his decisions. I am not at all surprised by the changes in the schools and I fear that they will continue to happen until there is new leadership in this state. So the class sizes will likely keep getting bigger...
Julie September 07, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Act 10 budget repair actually brought more money into The elmbrook district. Personally I don't think politics play a huge role in the closing of Hillside but if you do, keep in mind the budget shortfall of $16 mil occurred during the reign of a Democratic governor.
samantha brojanac September 07, 2012 at 12:31 PM
i agree, the damage was done way before. act 10 acatually helped our district
DontTreadOnMeEither September 07, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Hey. I know you.
DontTreadOnMeEither September 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Colleen, your classroom with 47 kids should not be tolerated in any school system. But to assume that all Elmbrook parents voted for Walker is fallacious.
DontTreadOnMeEither September 07, 2012 at 04:33 PM
So, your implication is that Doyle closed Hillside?
Julie September 07, 2012 at 05:03 PM
No he didn't close it either. The school board and Matt Gibson did because of a budget shortfall of their own making. That's where the blame lies. And I believe the so called declining enrollment has been overestimated. If Brook El had gotten that amount of unexpected enrollment, the kids couldn't have been accommodated because it is at capacity. That would have required further redistricting.
NotSoBettyBrookfield September 08, 2012 at 01:26 PM
This is exactly what Wisconsin voters asked for.....now our kids will pay the price! In the words of my own fifth grader who attends one of the overcrowded Elmbrook schools. "If everyone keeps STANDING with Walker, how are we ever going to move FORWARD?". We have no one to blame but ourselves...well those that voted for Walker anyway!
K September 08, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Please let your voices be heard on Tuesday at the board meeting. We need families to speak up for what is best for students. When you're looking at 30 students in a classroom with a HUGE range of needs, strengths, and challenges it is extremely difficult to accommodate. I too, could have seen this coming with Act 10 and the closing of Hillside, but saying that is not enough. The tax payers need to STEP UP and have their voices heard. Your students want this, your teachers want this. DON'T JUST TALK, ACT! Do what is right! Find the money...Elmbrook families and administrators EXPECT the best quality of education for our students. BEHS has the 2nd highest ACT scores in the state, BCHS has the 7th...those scores will not continue if you're continuously increasing class sizes and placing assistants in the room to help instead of splitting into a new section. You can't have it both ways. Quality education costs money!
Kirsten Lee September 08, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Here is my voice: Do not add more teachers. Class size of 30 is manageable especailly with an assistant who is teacher-certified. My children who attended Burleigh when there were over 700 students scored 32 in 2009 and 30 in 2012 on the ACT. They have had quality educations. In fact my daughter who scored 32 was in the last year of Burleigh having six 5th grade classes. Maybe one item that should be looked at is allowing students to stay in the district after they move to another school district. If many of these new students are renters, they can easily move next year but continue to attend Elmbrook Schools.
Meg Sier September 14, 2012 at 02:20 AM
You speak as if it is OK for the poor communities to have 30+ students in a class. I personally know of an inner city 7th grade class with 43. Today. Right now. When it happens in MPS the teachers are told "Research shows that class size doesn't matter, the quality of the teacher is what counts." Now that it is happening in an affluent community, I find the outrage almost laughable. Not the class size, the outrage. When will people start to care about ALL of society? I guess my answer is never. It's only when it bites you in your own behind do you even notice. Well, if the electorate doesn't wake up, it will be much more than education that is effected. Wait until YOUR healthcare is cut. Then your comment say "You hear about healthcare like this in poor communities!" or "You hear about crime like this in poor communities!" Remember, what you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me. JC.
Meg Sier September 14, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I agree. I'm not sure where the disconnect is for people. Can they not see the connection between cuts directly from the governors office to the schools? It was said that last year the cuts wouldn't be felt, but this year they would be. Well, it is here. Just wish people would've paid more attention to education than their $45 tax cut.
Meg Sier September 14, 2012 at 02:25 AM
And the cuts from Walker only made it much worse.
Meg Sier September 14, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Wait a minute. They have 30 plus an assistant??? OMG. Try 40 to one and then try to understand why Milwaukee teachers were a bit "upset" last year.

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