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
“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
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,”
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,
“Those are reasons that smaller class sizes are so successful, and
are what parents, teachers and students like,” Canady said.