Derry School Board Looks at Kindergarten Enrollment Numbers

The Derry School Board will continue to look at enrollment figures and review strategies, after a projected enrollment for fall 2016 showed at least one kindergarten class over the recommended size and several others near or at capacity.

Superintendent Laura Nelson gave a presentation on kindergarten enrollment at the March 22 School Board meeting. While the numbers aren’t all in, Nelson encouraged an earlier registration process, so the board and administration will know what they have to deal with.

One week into the registration process, the numbers she had were as follows:

• Derry Village Elementary School, Morning Kindergarten, 4, afternoon kindergarten, 6, two sessions of full-day kindergarten, each with 11 students;

• Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, morning kindergarten, 13, afternoon kindergarten, 13, two sessions of full-day kindergarten, each with 15 students;

• East Derry Memorial Elementary School, morning kindergarten, 19, afternoon kindergarten, 18, two sessions of full-day kindergarten, each with 18 students;

• Grinnell Elementary School, morning kindergarten, 11, afternoon kindergarten, 10, one session of full-day kindergarten, 17; and

• South Range Elementary School, morning kindergarten, 6, afternoon kindergarten, 16, one session of full-day kindergarten, 13.

The board’s recommended policy, Policy IJB, is to “strive for” no more than 18 students in kindergarten, 20 in grades 1 and 2, 23 in grade 3 and 25 in grades 4 through 8.

The policy also states, “If average class sizes exceed these goals educational consideration will be given to regrouping, employment of a paraprofessional, or employment of an additional teacher. Consideration shall also be given to state regulations, safety standards, facilities, and fiscal impact.”

Nelson said she has asked her K-5 principals to prepare an update on their class sizes. “Some of them have class sizes that exceed School Board policy,” she said.

The full kindergarten classes may mean that some 5-year-olds may not be able to go to their neighborhood schools. Nelson said that some districts deal with this in a first-come, first-served manner, while others hold a lottery for choice of kindergarten.

Last year Barka was the default school and “extra” kindergarteners were sent there, she said.

“We would like to not have them spread out across Derry,” Nelson said.

At a request from new board member Lynn Perkins, Nelson explained the full-day kindergarten concept. Parents pay $3,600 a year, on a monthly basis, she said.

Board chairman Dan McKenna said, “It would be interesting to see how many had registered by the end of April and May last year.” Depending on the waiting list, he said the board would need to look at “moving kids, moving teachers or hiring a teacher.”

Nelson said she is also concerned about grades 1 to 5. Barka in particular has some large classes compared with district policy, she said.

“If we need to add a classroom, I’d rather not wait till July or August,” she said. “By May, we need to be thinking about what these classes will be looking like.”

New board member Erika Cohen asked, “Do we see any ‘lopsided’ growth? Do some schools have fewer kids while others are growing?”

Nelson said that was the case a few years ago, but not now. Still, she said, Grinnell and Barka are showing steady growth. Grinnell had 16 more kindergarten students two years ago than it had capacity for, and those children were “spread out through the district,” she said. When they came home to Grinnell, a first grade class was added to accommodate them.

She also fielded a situation where one school had a pair of twins, and there was only one opening left. “I do not like to split up twins,” she said.

McKenna observed that the Facilities Committee will make its final report in May, and that will be a good time to evaluate enrollment.