Parents Say Mahwah Classrooms Are Overcrowded
One GW grade has class sizes that are "too big," and adding "in-class support structures" is not fixing the problem, parents say
A group of Mahwah parents who feel their kids have an unfair disadvantage in the Mahwah school system are speaking out. A group of about 20 parents of George Washington second graders addressed the Mahwah board of education at its meeting Wednesday night to point out that their childrens’ classes have become “overcrowded.”
According to parents at the meeting, when the current GW second graders first enrolled in Kindergarten, their classes had 14-16 students in each of them. “In one year, we watched our enrollment numbers go up by at least 10 kids,” Karen Passaro told the board Wednesday night. By the time they were in first grade, students were dealing with classes that “are just too large to provide an effective learning environment,” she said.
This year, the extra-large class has in it 52 students at GW alone. Though in previous years there have been three second grade classes at the school, a retirement after last year bumped that number down to two, parents said. The second graders were split this year into only two separate classes – one of 27 students and the other of 25.
“Kids in other grades are getting educational opportunities that our kids are not, just based on class size alone,” Christa Valentine, a Mahwah parent and teacher in Ridgewood, told the board Wednesday night. “We have watched this group of children grow for two years and would like to now finally give them the opportunity to have a closer relationship with their teachers and have the same educational opportunities as the other GW students,” she told Patch.
Parents pointed out that class sizes in this grade level are higher than the state average. According to the latest New Jersey Department of Education report card, the average second grade classroom in the state has 19.7 students in it. The average third grade has 20.2.
As of November 2011 enrollment statistics for this school year, the average second grade GW class size is not only higher than those of other grades in that school, but also higher than second grade classes in other elementary schools in the district. At Betsy Ross, 61 second graders are divided into three classes, for an average of 20.3 per class. At Lenape Meadows, 115 students in second grade are divided into 5 classes, for an average class size of 23 students.
Other grade levels at GW have class sizes that average from 17 (Kindergarten) to 23 (third grade) students.
At the meeting, parents asked the board to make sure that their kids don’t need to deal with overcrowded classrooms when they enter the third grade next year. There are currently three third grade teachers at the school, and parents asked the board to leave it that way, so their kids could be in classes of about 17 students.
“I understand that the board rearranges teachers because of budget restrictions, but it seems like our class is the only one suffering as a result,” Passaro said.
Board Vice President Chuck Saldarini told parents the board would “take an extra hard look” at second grade class sizes during its budget review process, which is happening for the rest of the month. “We historically look at class size when making determinations about which teachers will go where,” he said. “I am glad you brought this issue to the forefront,” he told parents at the meeting.
Board member Suzanne Curry added that the board “shuffle[s] teachers every year to try to make class sizes as small as possible with the staff we have.” She pointed out the example of the current sophomore class at the high school, which is another “pocket” in the district with higher enrollment numbers than Mahwah’s average. “We have been moving teachers around for that grade all the way through to make up for [its overall enrollment numbers],” she said.
In the interim, Superintendent Dr. Karen Lake pointed out that measures are being taken to decrease the student-to-teacher ratio in second grade GW classrooms. During one section of the school day, several students leave for outside math instruction, and during language arts, “in class support systems,” like additional teachers or PARAs, come into the classrooms.
Parents said they are fearful that their kids will have to deal with “in-class support” instead of smaller classes, again next year. “Adding a teacher in the classroom for part of the day to help with language [is a] band aid that [only temporarily fixes] the bigger problem of overcrowded class sizes,” Valentine said.
The board told parents it would address the issue with a future decision about how to partition the students into their third grade classes next year.