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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 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 , 61 second graders are divided into three classes, for an average of 20.3 per class. At , 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.

James Norberto March 16, 2012 at 12:03 PM
You bet I want to leave a comment... I grew up in the Bronx and sometimes had 35+ kids in my grammar school classrooms.. In High School, my graduating class was 650+ and frequently crammed 40+ kids in a class. My thoughts are that I did pretty OK (can always be better) with my overcrowded conditions. Not to mention I was 1 of 8 family members living in an overcrowded apt in the projects. Kids will learn and thrive mainly on the experience provided by teachers. I read earlier this week that our kids scores are slipping and now the Board is bringing in more assistance in the form of tutors. Let's focus our efforts - not to mention our tax dollars - on ensuring our kids have the best trained, best prepared, and most professional teachers. Our kids deserve it, and the long-term thrivability of Mahwah depends on it.
Maria Morales March 16, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Mr. Norberto, yes teacher effectiveness is the first indicator or should be for a good performance school district. However, we have any other factors to consider in education. Parent support, right curriculum, and small classes have shown to enhance educational levels. We as parent should advocate for our children and that is what we did at that meeting. We have been directly impacted my the class size two years in a row and respectfully asked the board to review our request. The current issues with education are not easy to fix, as you can see, but making sure class sizes are lower for next year third graders at GW is a good start.
Christina D. March 16, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I agree 100% with you James.
James Norberto March 16, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Good morning Ms. Morales. I agree with the parent support and right curriculum, but not convinced class size is not as much important as other 2 criteria. If I am correct, each classroom has a teacher's asst to support the teacher, and if not, I know there is more in-school support than the years I went to school (gee, sounds as if I went to school in the 1840s). With that being said, I am All In when it comes to ensuring my sons and their friends receive the best educational experience possible. Let's focusing on providing teachers the tools and support they need to bring out the best in our kids as they become the future of our community!
JP March 16, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I'm all about school, but jeesz, these parents are super spoiled. When I grew up here in NJ, none of my classes were less then 30 kids, and it didn't do any of us any harm. You've got to be kidding me with 14 kids per class, right?!?
colleen March 16, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Mahwah has a reading program that is truly a house of cards. The district does not use a reading program that is comprehensive and cohesive. Add oversized classes and it is a recipe for diaster. In class support is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. George Washington School is about as good as it gets in Mahwah, after that, it is all downhill. If Mr. Norberto can go through a public system in the city and do OK (and I believe him, because so did I) why are our kids failing the NJ ASK? Because the reading program is one of the worst around. It does not matter how large/small the classes are or how good/bad the teachers are if the reading program is splintered. Dealing with administration is like spending a day at the DMV you waste your time and nothing gets done. Settle the contract, put a reading program in place that is comprehensive and cohesive starting in kindergarten and ending when the kids graduate. Thats the kind of program I had growing up. I think settling the contract, reducing class size, a strong reading program is long overdue.
James Norberto March 16, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Hi Colleen, in full disclosure, I went to catholic schools from 1st through College, but I know these Bronx schools didn't have anywhere near the "support" of my local public schools. Of course, when I went to school... it was "OK" for teachers to throw staplers at students, beat kids with yardstick rulers, etc. I am in awe of my parents because we had NOTHING but they worked their butts off to make sure 6 kids had a good educational experience. To hear them talk of class size... imagine 1 teacher per GRADE LEVEL with sometimes 50+ kids in class room half the size of these Mahwah classrooms... and no HVAC. Again... it's all about the teachers and how well prepared they are to deliver a positive educational experience for our kids... with parental support, of course.
J March 16, 2012 at 03:31 PM
My son is a third grader at Lenape with a class size of 23 with no aid. What he does have is an exceptional teacher, Ms. Uzar who has the skills and the compassion to teach and handle a class that size. Let’s not focus on the class size but on how we can keep these great teachers in Mahwah.
Angelwings March 16, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I grew up in NYC an had classes with 40 plus students. In the 7th grade our class size was 55. All of the children graduating went onto HS with roughly 80% achieving placement in private schools. I concur with James, & J that size is not as important as having the best teachers in the classroom. In addition, to Ms. Uzar there are many talented, gifted and conscientious teachers in this district. Mrs. Beatrice who won yet another award. Mrs. Beatrice is an inspiration to her peers, her students and the entire community. She creatively enhances her approach to teaching our students year after year. The union contracts do not allow administrators or BOE to reward and incentivize those teachers who are exceptional. Nor do they allow for assessments of poor performing teachers. The reading program headed up by Mrs. Smith at Betsy Ross is successful and district teachers including Ms.Koby have advanced degrees in reading education. I would agree with Colleen that few of the Reading Language Arts teachers at JK are as well versed nor is the curriculum at that school fostering better reading/writing skill across the board. The program should be revamped and I am not sure all of the mini sessions and breakouts are working at JK because the very same teachers who are not up to the challenge literally are overseeing these special initiatives. Something needs to be done to address the JK Reading/Lang Arts Program. I support THE BOE and our outstanding teachers!!
Gottardo DiGiacopo March 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM
mahwah has many excellent, and few lacking, elements in its education program. it has many exceptional teachers that need to be respected and supported (even in an angry recession). in solving these problems, none of our own ancient personal histories are terribly relevant, especially as vague sentimental heresay abstractions. of course class size is a relevant issue; the jury has been back on that for quite some time. any parent of a young student should voice their concerns, but this should always be done with an awareness and acceptance of certain limitations. there are no quick easy fixes for any problems, but keep in mind that things are still quite good here in town. none of us (especially our 2nd & 3rd graders) are going to run-out-of-time. stay vigilant at meetings, teach them to be kind at home; everything will be okay.
delgado March 17, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Look Mahwah is home to the growing Bergen Tea Party and one of its leaders Freeholder Bernie Hermansan, and the Bergen Tea Party has pledged to cut and with cuts come reductions in education and less competitive schools and lower property values and a less attractive town and a less competitive schools,,,,, thats what the voters decided and now let the decaying of Mahwah begin, these parents should stop complaining and just count there huge savings.
Mahwah Resident March 17, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Colleen, GW is as good as it gets.... Really??? Are u kidding? What about Betsy Ross (very nice school) , Lenape Meadows (newer and much bigger than GW) !! Let's not be so close minded. Children are Children even if they come from different schools!!! WOW
Mahwah Resident March 17, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I am one of the parents where my son is from the "huge" Mahwah HS sophmore class. My son has been dealing with large classes for 10 years now. He has turned out just fine and is a better person for it. I never thought to try and change it until reading this. I am happy my son meets and interacts with all different kinds of students. This is what he going to see once he gets out in the working world we all live in. Go "Huge" class of 2014!!!!
Maria Morales March 17, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Good evening Mr. Norberto, lets agree to disagree on class sizes. On another note, you must have an excellent memory because I sure do not remember how many students were in my 3rd grade class. . And I am not trying to be sarcastic. Also, I am confused as to what tools you want to give the teachers, or what support they need? Do you mean more training? Respect? Can you elaborate? if I could ask you, do you have any small children in the Mahwah school district?
Maria Morales March 17, 2012 at 02:21 PM
J, did you read Mahwah Patch's article on three schools NJASK scores. Did you read LM's scores. Is there any school district in the vicinity with such scores? Everyone supports good teachers, or at least the persons who have children in a chool system. Yet the topic seems to be that they get no support. Is asking for better accountability or more instructional time or any other demand a parent feels is warranted wrong?

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