Gazette opinion: Crowded elementary classrooms call for help

2011-10-28T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Crowded elementary classrooms call for help The Billings Gazette
October 28, 2011 12:10 am

Next week when parents of Billings Public Schools students are scheduled for conferences with their children’s teachers, there’s one question all should ask:

How can I help?

“We love to have parents in the classroom,” said assistant superintendent Gail Surwill, who began her education career as an elementary teacher. “There’s always things that can be done.”

This year, there are more students needing help. Enrollment in Billings elementary schools has grown since last year, and so has the number of School District 2 classrooms with class sizes exceeding state accreditation maximums. According to the district’s unofficial Oct. 3 count, it had 8,313 K-6 students enrolled — 323 more than last year, with only 11 more teachers than last year.

As of this month, 94 elementary classrooms were over-size, mostly kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes, which are supposed to be no larger than 20 students, according to Montana accreditation standards. However, kindergarten classes at Alkali Creek Elementary had 25 and 26 students, while Highland Elementary had 25 students in each of its two kindergarten classes.

Only four of the 21 elementary schools with kindergarten have zero kindergarten classes over accreditation standards.

Fewer classes in the upper grades are over-size because state accreditation standards set a maximum of 28 students for grades 3 and 4 and a max of 30 students for grades 5 and 6. Districtwide, over-sized classes include 31 kindergarten, 28 first grade, 24 second grade, zero third grade, six fourth grade, one fifth grade and four sixth grade. In addition, the district counts 17 classrooms in which students from two grades are combined.

The school district hired 14 part-time classroom aides to assist teachers with over-size classrooms. Last year, no aides were hired for over-size classes, Surwill noted, because of budget constraints. Most of these paraprofessionals are assigned to assist in two overcrowded classrooms.

Folks who want to help their schools but aren’t parents of current students can volunteer, too. Contact your school principal or get in touch with Partners in Education, a program that pairs local businesses with a Billings Public School.

Each employee group volunteer partnership is tailored to the needs of the school and the resources of the business, said Krista Hertz, executive director of the Foundation for Billings Public Schools. More than 30 businesses already partner with Billings elementary and middle schools and nearly 20 partner with the Career Center.

However, additional opportunities are available with schools all over town, Hertz said.

“The more businesses that can be involved, the more enrichment for our children,” she said.

Having more children in the classroom can be a challenge for teachers and students. At your child’s parent-teacher conference, ask what you can do to help. Contact Partners in Education to learn how your business can make a difference for children.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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