Friday, April 20, 2007
Carlisle School faces staff cuts and larger classes
Changes in class size and staffing levels were questioned by parents at the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting on April 4 and the Carlisle School Association (CSA) presentation on April 12, both of which focused on the proposed FY08 Carlisle School budget.
Class sizes will rise next year for seven of nine grades even if the school's $150,000 override passes, Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle explained.
Middle school class sizes head higher
The largest classes (the current sixth grade is 105 and seventh grade is 103) had previously been split into five sections to provide smaller class sizes. The middle school model was listed by Doyle as one of the school's accomplishments for FY07 when she spoke at both meetings. However, as early as November 2006 the school planned to have all grades revert to the four-section model.
At the April 12 presentation, parent Muffy Szegvari expressed concern about the class sizes, noting that "26 [in a class] seems huge for the middle school."
What is the right size?
Class sizes vary considerably school to school, and experts differ on the best class size for different ages.The National Education Association (NEA) states, "NEA supports a class size of 15 students in regular programs and even smaller in programs for students with exceptional needs" (www.nea.org/classsize/index.html.).
The optimal class size ranges, Superintendent Doyle said, were: grades K-2: 18 or fewer students, grades 3-5: 18-21 students, grades 6-8: 21-25 elementary grades is an "early intervention" model, she explained, allowing teachers to give assistance to students who might otherwise develop educational concerns if their issues are not caught in time.
As can be seen in the table to the right, next year six of the K-8 grades will have average class sizes that exceed Doyle's recommendations, compared with two grades this year.
Teachers per grade
At the Carlisle School it has been the norm to have four teachers for each grade level. This model was used for many years when the school population was smaller, but has been varied when the class is substantially larger or smaller than usual. In the elementary grades one extra teacher can be added without a significant impact to the overall structure, since the classrooms are self-contained.
However, in middle school, the teachers specialize in one subject area such as science. When the size of the middle school team is increased to five or six teachers, some teachers have to teach two subjects (for example, math and language arts). Five-teacher teams were created in sixth and seventh grade this year to accommodate class sizes of over 100. However, this new structure will be dropped in FY08.
The plan to change the FY08 middle school format was first discussed at the November 15, 2006 Carlisle School Committee. At that meeting Doyle stated, "the best model she has seen is the four-person team," according to the meeting minutes.
When class sizes rise, aides have sometimes been added to classrooms. Doyle said the middle school task force recommended adding two aides to assist the eighth-grade teachers. Doyle clarified later on the phone that the middle school aides were cut when the override amount was reduced. One aide might be added back if the override passes and if the school experiences any teacher resignations or retirements. The aides required for students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) will not be affected, she said.
Middle School Principal Paul Graseck, reached by e-mail, suggested Homework Club, the after-school study period supervised by teachers, may see "a little more traffic" if aides were reduced, but, he concluded, "if we have fewer aides, then everyone else will inevitably inherit a bit more responsibility."
Carlisle School Committee member Christy Barbee, reached by phone for comment, said, "Given the history of this class [current seventh-grade class] more emphasis is being put on the model than on what teachers can do to cope with the kids." The same group of students was split into six sections in sixth grade last year, then five sections in seventh grade this year. Barbee said she has consistently felt the class should be split into five or more sections even though the eighth-grade team feels they can handle class sizes of 25.8 students. When asked if she thought the recommendations for optimal classroom sizes would be increased, Barbee stated, "I hope not."
Doyle said later that she hopes the larger classes are not a trend. "We will look at different models," she said, if class sizes continue to grow.
Carlisle Education Model and SPED
Doyle described the teacher-team format for each grade level, which "consists of regular education teachers and a special education teacher who works closely to meet the needs of the range of learners." She said the school follows the "Carlisle Education Model," which includes "high expectations for all students in an inclusive school setting." The term "inclusive" refers to the state mandate of including all students of all abilities in the least restrictive setting. Some students may require assistance or adaptations in their grade-level curriculum. Special Educators and classroom aides, teaming with regular classroom teachers, assist students who need additional help. Director of Student Services Karen Slack pointed out during the budget meeting that the Special Educators and aides help all students, not just those who are on Individualize Education Plans.
Barbee said she thought the Carlisle School has a costly Carlisle Special Education (SPED) model. In that model each grade level has a dedicated Special Educator, who works as a team with all the teachers at that grade level.
Barbee said the school is looking at other plans that are more cost effective.
Group students together for SPED savings
Director of Student Services Karen Slack, attending the April Carlisle Parents Action Committee (CPAC) meeting, said students with similar needs may be placed together in one classroom, which allows one aide to more easily assist the group. Barbee said this would eliminate the need for the special educator to keep "moving from class to class."
Cuts to curriculum coordinators
Parent Dale Ryder asked what the impact would be if curriculum coordinators stipends were removed, one of the budget cuts earmarked if the override does not pass. The question was not answered directly. Superintendent Doyle explained that the coordinators meet after school, discuss staff needs, study the Massachusetts frameworks, using the Carlisle School benchmarks (guidelines on what should be taught at which grade) to ensure each requirement is being met, and they order educational materials. There are approximately five curriculum coordinators, with yearly stipends each of between $2,000 and $3,000. "We need the curriculum coordinators." said Doyle. If the curriculum coordinators were cut, then the principals would have to "take up the slack," she added. But she also said the principals are already "full out," and as an example, she explained the principals are "spending huge hours" filling out forms for MCAS, collecting the tests and boxing them. "It is very complicated," she said.
Some cuts even with override
Due to the reduction of the school's override amount (the school originally requested $241,000) five teachers will be cut even if the $150,000 override passes. Other cuts that will occur regardless of the override include: a permanent substitute, $5,000 in texts and supplies, curriculum coordinator stipends, a number of aides, and special maintenance projects. Parent Brenda Hicks asked if the teachers slated to be cut are classroom teachers or specialists. Doyle said teachers in grades 2, 5, 6, 7 are to be cut (these grades will therefore have larger class sizes), and "special education reductions" will be made. If the override does not pass, one additional teacher, a number of aides, more facilities maintenance projects, and seven curriculum coordinators stipends will be cut, Doyle explained in the presentation.
Parent Dan Jacques asked if other programs would be impacted, such as art, foreign language, or music. Doyle replied that no other programs would beimpacted by the budget cuts.
© 2007 The