These classes are full

As we prepare for this afternoon’s General Membership meeting, and we deliberate what action to take, we are sharing a comment from aparent who sent this to the superintendent’s blog.

 Superintendent Reid,
Welcome to the district. Our family has found it to be filled with teachers who truly care and are doing the best they can with sometimes less than ideal situations. Every year, I am asked to provide more and more as a parent in the form of supplies, money for underfunded activities, and time supplementing my children’s learning in and out of the classroom. A corner of my house is piled high with new supplies, including things like zip lock bags, tissues, and sanitizer that I don’t think I should need to provide, but do each year. The checkbook is ready for the inevitable string of requests for money that will start as soon as that first open house and continue without fail throughout the year. I will use my money/ink to print the weekly teacher’s classroom updates because they have been instructed to cut out as much photocopying as they can. Though I am sometimes frustrated by this, I continue to do it because I know the value of education and I like that there is a very real sense of community in the schools that I have been associated with. I am willing to do my part to provide my and the other kids with those things that used to be provided in school, but now are not. Parents and grandparents are encouraged to volunteer and are welcomed in the schools.

Sadly, it is easy to see that, even at last year’s class size levels, a reliable volunteer corps is almost mandatory for a teacher to be able to even think about providing a child with any, much less consistent, one-on-one time. So many children require this attention to truly evaluate where they are and to help them move forward–and ALL children deserve it. I have seen this first hand as a volunteer for many years and I have also seen the frustration of many teachers when they feel their one-on-one time with students most often comes at “assessment” time. (I am frustrated as a parent that my children gained the vocabulary word “assessment” at all as kindergarteners and every year after…but that is another subject.) These classes are full. Full of kids from a vast, vast range of backgrounds with a vast, vast range of learning backgrounds and needs. Full of kids with issues they bring from home. It shouldn’t be the teacher’s job to deal with these needs, but we all know it is when these issues present themselves through behavior or other ways.

These classrooms are physically full. I often have to rely on my ‘rules of the road’ background as a driver just to navigate these classrooms. The desks (or should I say, shared tables, more often than not)are so packed in and so close together. There is space for one child to pass and that is it. If one child decides that they do not want to sit with their body tight to the desk and their chair sticks out into the travel path, all movement stops. Traffic jams and bottlenecks should not be a part of a classroom, yet they occur all day long. Any other concerns set aside for a moment—there is just physically no more space to put more children in many of these rooms. It is asking for trouble to put more children and more seating and supplies into these rooms. From a learning standpoint, I don’t need any special research or study results to tell me what common sense and observation can–a crowded classroom does not create an environment conducive to learning. I often come away from my volunteer experiences wondering how these little kids can concentrate on anything I am asking them to do. The noise level (not out of control, but just the expected noise level of many people in a room) makes it difficult for me to hear a child or concentrate on the task at hand. I can only imagine what this is like for a new learner. I know from personal experience that things are getting missed. Unless a child has the ability and desire to learn it on their own and/or a parent to supplement at home, basic skills are not being mastered, only over viewed. There just isn’t time in a day to reach each child or see where they are–and that is based on previous year’s class levels. This lack of mastery of basic skills early on just leads to a snowball effect as the years go on.
For the child, there are very real and very substantial, long lasting effects to even one year in an overcrowded classroom.

You know this, teachers know this, and most parents and community members know this. Money, as always, is the determining factor here.

As a parent, I want the best possible school year for my kids, EVERY YEAR. One year or a few years of overcrowding may not seem unreasonable when you look at it on paper as you try to create a budget. Everyone will make due with whatever they have to. The kids won’t know things aren’t the way they are supposed to be–they have always been in classes of at least 24 in the elementary level. But these kids only get ONE YEAR in each grade level. If it wasn’t the best it could have been, too bad, that was it. It isn’t right. It is isn’t doing right by them. These kids are going to be adults in a world that is far more fast paced and complicated than we can even imagine at this point. Certainly a more challenging world and work place than we, as adults, deal with now. They need to be ready. They only get 13 years in school–EVERY YEAR COUNTS FOR THESE KIDS!!! As I read reports and listen at meetings, this point seems to be lost.

I don’t care if you can get this turned around in years to come–that is years of ‘less than possible’ education for my kids that they can’t get back. These kids are in school NOW. As much as I wish I could, I can’t stop time to wait for things to turn around and keep my kids from moving on until things get better. Time moves on no matter what did or did not happen each day along the way. Every single day of every year in school counts for each child. I realize that we can’t make money fall from the sky to create an easy fix for these issues.

Classrooms can’t be expanded at will; teachers can’t be hired if the money isn’t there. What I ask is that you look long and hard at the overall district and be absolutely sure that the money really isn’t there. Try to find money that can be used in a better way, to directly reach the students. Perhaps there are other areas in the district that can temporarily “make due” with less or be reconfigured to put more money into more classrooms. Obviously, overcrowding is only one issue when thinking about student achievement, but it is a big one with reaching effects. I know it is said over and over by everyone, but PLEASE keep your eyes on what is truly important here, what the mission of SKSD truly is–to FULLY educate each child to the absolute best of your ability—EACH AND EVERY YEAR. Thank you for your time.

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