Derry School Board Presents New Policy on Class Size

The Derry School Board will establish a policy on class sizes after a “first reading” of the proposed policy at the March 17 board meeting.

Class sizes have been a topic of discussion ever since enrollment began to decline, with several community members pressing for cutting teachers or an entire school. The proposed policy establishes a number that the district will “strive for” and attempt “not to exceed,” while providing flexibility for move-ins and other situations.

The policy calls for the district to strive for class sizes not to exceed 18 in Kindergarten, 20 in first and second grades, 22 in third grade, and 25 in grades 4 through 8.

Policy Committee member Brenda Willis said, “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about class size.” She said the Policy Committee has reviewed the class size study done by MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian, assistant superintendent, and said the committee would recommend the above numbers.

However, Willis said, the proposed policy also allows for flexibility. “If we find ourselves exceeding those numbers, consideration can be given to regrouping, hiring a paraprofessional, or hiring a teacher and creating another class,” she said.

“We want to strive for these numbers, but we also understand that things can happen,” Willis explained.

For example, if two new children come into third grade and bring a class size to 24, “We can’t open a class for two students,” Willis said. “It’s not fiscally responsible, it’s not necessary for the students.”

“This leaves the door open for us to have a conversation about what’s the best thing to do and to make adjustments,” she said.

Board chairman Dan McKenna recommended adding the word “average” to the class sizes. “There may be a reason a class needs to be larger,” he said, especially in the middle-school years. “That will allow us flexibility,” he said.

“Average” allows the district to look at factors such as the number of classrooms in the building, the way the classes are set up and other factors, McKenna said.

Two years ago the district faced a situation with different needs and results, McKenna reminded the board and television audience. Class sizes were high at Ernest P. Barka and Grinnell elementary schools. In the Grinnell situation the best solution was to add a classroom and hire a teacher, while in the Barka situation the best solution was to keep classes as they were and add a paraprofessional.

“We did what made sense,” McKenna said.

At that time, Willis said, the board found a great deal of collaboration among the administration, classroom teachers and Special Education personnel.

“We had a good process and we hope it will continue,” Willis said.

Superintendent Laura Nelson was in favor of the flexibility. “It’s not a hard and fast ‘cap’ on class sizes,” she said. “We will not be implementing a rule that makes no sense – or be forced to break our own rule.”

The policy will receive a second reading and be voted on in the March 31 meeting.