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Schools face larger class sizes

Molly Shore

In her 33 years of teaching, Sharon Snell said she never had it as

good as the past six years. That is when the third-grade teacher’s

class size at Bret Harte Elementary School was reduced to meet the


state’s mandate for no more than 20 students in kindergarten through

third-grade classes.

“When 20-to-1 came, those of us privileged enough to have these

classes thought we died and went to heaven,” Snell said. “When I


first started [teaching] in the early ‘70s, we always had over 30

children. If we had 29, it seemed like a small class.”

Snell, 58, will retire at the end of the school year, but other

teachers in the district who have 20 students in their classes might

again face increasing class sizes.

Because of reduced education dollars expected from the state, the

district could be forced to reduce its teaching staff, necessitating

a return to class sizes of pre-1996 levels. However, Nancy Gascich,


the district’s director of personnel services, said the district

intends to start the 2003-04 school year with the smaller classes.

Preliminary termination notices were delivered to 260 teachers

and other workers this week. More than 135 kindergarten through

fifth-grade teachers received such notices. District officials said a

breakdown of the number of kindergarten through third-grade teachers

receiving notices was not available.

Although many believe that smaller classes lead to better


teaching and learning, Principal June Rosena of St. Robert Bellarmine

Elementary School does not agree.

Rosena said at her school, classes average 35 students, and it

does not present a problem.

“It’s not the number,” she said. “It’s [the teacher] you have in

your class.”

Rosena believes it is just as easy to teach a large roomful of

children as a smaller group, if the teacher has put enough time into

classroom planning and preparation, and has parental support.

St. Robert Bellarmine teacher Natalie Miller-Lingua has 34

students in her first-grade class.

“Because parents are very much involved, I ask them to help out,”

Miller-Lingua said.

She tells parents to be aware of any homework their children are

struggling with, so when parents report problems to her, she can

work with the students the next day to resolve these issues.

Teachers with smaller classes are able to give more individual

attention to each child, said Andrea Canady, the district’s

elementary education director. With the smaller class size,

discipline is not a problem, and teachers get to know the parents

better, as well as being able to grade more papers for each child,

she said.

“Those are reasons that smaller class sizes are so successful, and

are what parents, teachers and students like,” Canady said.