Schenectady classes big for youngest kids

Kindergarten influx puts district in squeeze

Monday, September 17, 2012
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— Schenectady’s kindergartens are bursting at the seams.

There are so many kindergartners this year that many classrooms have maxed out at 25 children. Last year, the average classroom had 22 kindergartners.

In some classrooms, there are so many 5-year-olds that they don’t all fit on the rug for reading. Luckily, many of them are willing to squeeze close to each other, or sit on the floor next to the rug.

Schenectady’s kindergartens won’t go above 25 students, Superintendent Laurence Spring said. If more students arrive, he will add more classes, taught by teachers who are now coaching and mentoring other teachers.

“It would certainly be a sacrifice,” he said. “But you’ve got to make sure you have a teacher in front of the kids.”

The district is also running out of room. Howe Early Childhood Center is full, Spring said. There’s a “little bit” of space at Fulton Early Childhood Center, which is where any new kindergarten sections would be placed. The elementary schools are full.

“To some degree you want to pay attention to what the transportation pattern is,” he said.

But with so little space available, “you’d just have to put them where you can put them.”

There are 100 more students in the school district this year, about 20 of whom are kindergartners, Spring said. Last year the district also saw a spike in kindergartners, and population estimates have suggested the influx will continue.

Research has shown that young children do better if they are in classes of fewer than 17 students. Spring said that goal was admirable — but just not possible in Schenectady.

“It’s really where we are economically,” he said. “It really means dramatically increasing the [number of] classes and the classrooms. That’s not something we can do.”

In Schenectady, if a kindergarten class has fewer than 21 students, officials analyze the figures to see whether those students can be put elsewhere to eliminate the class.

There’s one kindergarten class of 20 in the school district this year.

But none of the classes have more than 25 students.

“If it gets over 25, that’s when it becomes difficult to manage the schedules and routines,” Spring said. “Twenty-five kids is manageable. There’s nothing to be concerned about.”

The enrollment increase is new for Schenectady. The most recent data it reported to the state showed an average class size of 21 for students in grades 1 through 6. That will likely increase in future years if the kindergartners stay in the school system.

It has some officials concerned.

“Class size does matter,” said New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn. “The smaller the class size, the more time and attention the teacher can give every student. Research shows that when class sizes are smaller, student achievement is higher, especially when students are vulnerable.”

Many of Schenectady’s students count as “vulnerable” — living in poverty is a major factor.

However, Korn noted that he can’t say children in a class of 25 students will do worse than a class of 21 students.

“I don’t know that there’s a magic number,” he said.

On the other hand, at least kindergarten is still being offered, said state School Boards Association spokesman David Albert.

He noted that kindergarten isn’t required — and that some school districts have talked about cutting it.

“It’s an accomplishment just to maintain a kindergarten,” he said. “I’m certain that everyone would like to have class sizes as low as they can, but at the end of the day, districts have been laying off teachers.”

He added that he doesn’t expect Schenectady to ever cut its kindergarten.

“Districts realize how critical early childhood education is,” he said. “But I do expect to see larger class sizes, simply because the districts don’t have the funding.”

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September 17, 2012
7:47 a.m.
patricca says...

Studies show that learning outcomes in classes with 15 - 29 students are the same. Classes with fewer than 15 students experience a significant increase in learning outcomes. Classes with more than 29 students experience a significant decrease in learning outcomes.

September 17, 2012
8:15 a.m.

Geez all those City mom's buy and paying taxes on clothes, food, school supplies in Schenectady....hmmm more money not collected by the for class size...the Teacher's contract needs to be renegotiated to reduce the benefit and pension costs that are preventing the addition of more teachers..and aides...which was unheard of when Schenectady was close to 100,000 in population in the 1940's...Focus on the problem of greed. There was a time when teachers worked a summer job...because they had to...not working a full year. Public servants are just that...public servants...when you have 1700 qualified teachers applying for 9 openings in Schenectady...that tells me there is an abundance of teachers to fill the positions at a renegotiated public servant salary and pension. This is the world we live in today with unprecedented unemployment. People working should be very thankful to have job! Especially in the public sector!

September 17, 2012
6:53 p.m.
birmy says...

The comment from Patricca was, "Studies show that learning outcomes in classes with 15 - 29 students are the same." I don't buy it, even if the study was done in a suburban school. If people were in a classroom for a few days they would know that statement does not hold water. 29:1 teacher ratio or 15:1 teacher ratio even with great classroom management is a different ballgame.

Scott says there are 1,700 teachers applying for 9 positions in Schenectady. The reason for this is NYS lost at least 15,000 teaching jobs and we have Union College, Sage, UAlbany, St. Rose, Excelsior and all the other kids moving back home graduating with teaching degrees. The job prospects in education are not good.

I do believe school taxes are too high in general. But what if a family health plan did not go from $2,000 in 1991 to $15,000-$20,000 today? If the family health plan had kept pace with inflation could we pay a teacher with 25-30 years experience $90,000? Could we afford to pay a graduate with 6 years of college $45,000 to start? Are teachers' aides who make $9 something an hour in Schenectady to start too high? I don't believe it.

The Schenectady teacher's contract was just renegotiated. Huge article in paper about that the other day. Look up Michael Goot's article. Should we renegotiate their contract every week?

I believe education is extremely important to the future of this country. We spend $62,000 per year on inmates and we cannot afford to educate our youth. I believe our priorities need to be reevaluated. There needs to be new funding mechanisms.

September 17, 2012
8:14 p.m.
MDogsMom says...

Why is it that the Baby Boomers all learned to read, write, add and subtract all in classes which had 30 - 40 kids. Today people demand classes half that size and our schools turn out kids who can't do those things????

September 17, 2012
11:51 p.m.
roses says...

Bravo to You MDogsMoM,We had 30 kids when I went to school,And we weren't fat because we went outside and did things,We weren't allowed to sit at the TV all day,And we learned from our fathers who actually knew how to fix things !!!Teachers are like Politicians,Once they get Tenure they are set for Life !!!

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