Local school leaders are among the masses looking for a way to cut class sizes while leaving the nonessential courses, such as art and music, in place.
Lawmakers added a provision in the state budget last summer requiring schools to make steep cuts in class sizes for kindergarten through third grade. While local school superintendents feel reduced class sizes can benefit students, neither are in favor of cutting any classes or position to make the mandate work.
“I support lower class sizes,” Sampson County Schools superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy said. “The concept of lower class sizes is great.”
While Bracy does support lower class sizes, which he says allows teachers to give more targeted instruction and attention to the students, he does not support having to cut any position or class offerings to accommodate for the extra teachers needed for the regular classroom.
“My concern is that this change did not come with the necessary funding to implement it,” Bracy added. “We are in the process of determining how many additional teachers and classrooms we will need to reduce class sizes while still maintaining our current art, music and physical education programs.”
Titled House Bill 13, the legislation has drawn concern from school officials that it would force them to find money to hire more teachers and expand schools to hold the additional classes.
During the General Assembly session last Thursday, the bill passed the first reading of the House and has been referred to the Committee on Education.
Senator Brent Jackson, who represents Sampson, Duplin and Johnston counties, says he supports smaller class sizes for grades K-3, is confident state lawmakers will be able to work out a plan that benefits everyone, most importantly the students.
“The studies I have seen show that it makes a huge difference down the road in the students’ ability to perform when they were exposed to smaller classrooms in their early years,” Jackson shared in a statement. “There has been a lot of discussion going on concerning this change to the classroom size. I have personally reached out and spoken with all four of our superintendents within our district to hear their concerns, as well as any challenges they may face implementing this plan.”
According to the bill, the average class size for kindergarten through third grade will not exceed the funded allotment ratio of teachers to students in those grades by more than three students. The maximum class size for each grades is as follows: kindergarten, one teacher per 18 students; first grade, one teacher per 16 students; second grade, one teacher per 17 students; and third grade, one teacher per 17 students.
If passed, this would become effective in the 2017-18 school year.
“It will be a huge financial commitment and challenge for us to implement this new law,” Bracy explained. “I am a strong proponent of the arts in our schools. I believe that student exposure in the fine arts is an important piece in improving learning throughout all academic areas.”
Jeana Carr, director of elementary education for Sampson County Schools, added that class size is an important factor for grade levels when it comes to educating students.
“However, it is very important to realize that lower class sizes will still require the planning of necessary appropriate instructional strategies in order to improve student learning within the classroom,” Carr said. “Also, it’s important to note that the ratios provided and the allowance of six students beyond this ratio currently reflects a majority of our current class sizes for these grade levels.”
Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount echoed Bracy’s and Carr’s feelings.
“Simply put, this law will decrease class sizes,” Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount shared. “The negative impact of the proposed class size ratio change means that we could have some difficult staffing decisions to make for the 2017-2018 school year.”
Like Bracy, Blount said the smaller class sizes have advantages, but remains concerned about the long-term effects on students and staff.
“At this time there has been no specific decisions for Clinton City Schools,” Blount said in a statement. “We are aware of the invaluableness of all of our personnel in preparing our students and we count ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to offer the support and classes that we do on a daily consistent basis to our students.”
If local systems are forced to cut positions, local officials, as well as those across the state, are concerned about having to cut positions like art and music. That is something neither Bracy or Blount want to do.
“We know that student success is dependent upon having high quality teachers in every classroom, while keeping class sizes as low as possible,” Blount said. ” In the K-3 grade span, it is equally important to expose students to the extracurricular subjects such as art and music, while continuing to have teacher assistants in the classroom for instructional support.”
As the General Assembly meets this week, both systems will continue to monitor HB 13 and follow any discussion made on the law. Legislators are being encouraged to place the class size law on hold and continue to utilize the current class size ratios.
“We recognize our students thrive off of different subjects and enjoy different outlets in their education,” Blount said. “The learning process for each child often is different. Being able to offer a variety of classes to our students is important in accomplishing the goal of preparing the future, together.”
The North Carolina Association of School Administrators is proposing the state restore the previous individual class size to prevent a negative impact on each district’s ability to hire non-core teachers who enhance instruction in early grades in areas of art, physical education, technology and other special subjects.
“There is no magic number in terms of what is optimal because student success is based on many things, including strong parental support,” Blount said. “We are hopeful that our funding will be sufficient to cover whatever changes the General Assembly chooses to make. If not, we will have some difficult decisions to make for the upcoming school year.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.