Of all the things parents look at when selecting a school for their children, class sizes typically rank high on most parents’ list of considerations. St. Michael-Albertville superintendent Dr. Jim Behle talked class sizes for the current school year at Monday evening’s board meeting. He reported that class sizes at the elementary and middle school levels have remained fairly constant over the past four years. Kindergarten has stayed at 20 or 21 per class, first and second grade are in the 20-24 range and third grade class sizes increased an average of 1-2 students per class over the past four years, to 23-28 students per class. The district’s two middle schools have seen a slight decrease in class sizes, he said, after adding some additional staff at that level in recent years and shifting staff around in more creative ways.
One exception to the consistent class sizes, he said, are fourth grade classes at Fieldstone and Big Woods elementary schools, which are seeing class sizes at 29-30 students. Behle said larger than projected enrollments caused the bigger class sizes, with late summer enrollments that made it difficult to add a new full time staff member on short notice. Adding a new teacher at the last minute creates difficulties in arranging when that new class would do all their scheduled specials such as gym, music and art, he said.
To compensate for the larger sizes, Behle said a part-time teacher has been hired at each of the affected elementary schools to pull a few fourth grade students out of each class for reading and math instruction times. He said this makes their class sizes around 25 students per class during those times.
Behle said he and school leaders will be watching numbers closely for next year and would like to maintain fourth grade class sizes between 25-28 students, preferably without using part-time teachers as they are this year.
Beyond the crunch in fourth grade, Behle said the high school would see a sizable increase in students next year. The 2016 graduating class is 433 students strong, but the current eighth grade class has 474, not to mention around 30-40 students who will move from St. Michael Catholic School into the public school system for high school. This means an increase of at least 70-80 students at the high school next year.
The trend of a rising high school population has already begun, and Behle said that despite adding teachers at the high school there are still more classes than in previous years that are above 30 students or above a class’s cap. High school principal Bob Driver told the school board he does hear from some parents, staff and even sometimes students about the class sizes being larger. Behle said they would be looking at staffing changes for next year to try and address the sizes.
Last year’s senior class was the last class in St. Michael-Albertville under 400 students, Behle said. The current grades four through nine are all in the range of 500 students right now, so the high school will continue to see population gains in the next few years as the comparatively smaller grades 10, 11 and 12 are replaced with larger classes.