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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 15, 2011

Teacher time added to handle middle-school influx

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — After reducing the class sections in the middle school from five to four while putting together this year’s budget last winter, the school district was flooded with new eighth-grade students.

Some classes will have more than 30 students, since there will be 104 students in eighth grade.  The school board voted unanimously this week to increase an English teacher’s hours to be full time and to remove a high school math class — which had two students enrolled — so that the teacher can hold another middle school math class.

Usually, six to eight children enroll in the middle school over the summer, said Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder.  This year, 18 students enrolled.  Most of them are in the eighth grade.

Classes in some other subjects will have high numbers, too, but the district is focusing on English and math because those are the subjects in grades 4 through 8 that will be scrutinized by the state’s education department as part of the controversial new teacher evaluation system.

In order for the state to get federal grant money for schools, it adopted a system for evaluating teachers that is based on observation by district administrators and students’ test scores.  Using test scores for evaluation had long been resisted by the teachers’ unions, which agreed to it in order to get the federal money, but then protested when the amount based on test scores was raised to from 20 to 40 percent, and successfully fought the increase in court.

The new evaluation system is supposed to be phased in this year, by focusing on teachers in the fourth through eighth grades teaching math and English, and will be broadened to cover all teachers the following year.

From an administrative point of view, Snyder said this week, she can’t create another French class to lower the student-to-teacher ratio, but she can “massage the schedule to accommodate” English and math, which is also expected to even the numbers of students in social studies classes, since some sections have students numbering in the low twenties and others in the low thirties.  With changes in students’ schedules after the new math and English sections are added, the class sizes in social studies will likely even out.

When the district chose to reduce the middle school sections to four, it expected declining enrollment.  Sarita Winchell, who had been the assistant superintendent for business before retiring in the spring, projected that class sizes would be around 23 to 24 students with four sections.  She also noted that the high school has four sections and reducing the sections at the middle school would bring it into line.

At the other end of the spectrum for enrollment this year is the kindergarten class, which has only 52 students.  “We were kind of stunned,” Snyder said.  That is 35 fewer students than were in last year’s kindergarten class, she said.

The district has now reduced the kindergarten sections from four to three, with two morning classes and one afternoon class in Voorheesville’s half-day program.

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