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Hingham schools coping with increased class sizes

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 6, 2010 02:19 PM

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With more students and fewer teachers this year, Hingham school officials have laid out plans to use recently awarded federal funds to soften the impact of larger class sizes.

In total, there are almost 100 more students in Hingham schools this year. For many grades, this translates to classrooms of 25 or more students.

In grades K-5, 12 out of 16 grade 2 classes in the district are 24 students or more. Seven out of 14 grade 3 classrooms exceed 25 students. Three out of 14 grade 4 classrooms are larger than 25 students. Finally, seven out of 15 classrooms in grade 5 have or exceed 24 students.

In the middle school, 108 out of 173, or 62 percent, of classrooms are at 25 students or higher, one class reaching 31 students. This is up from 41 percent of classrooms at or higher than 25 students in 2009-2010.

The high school, though less drastic, has similar numbers. 80 out of 248 classrooms, or 32 percent, of grades 9-12 have or exceed 25 students, up from 30 percent the previous year. The largest class has 29 students.

Some of the students are feeling the effects.

“Because of large class sizes – we have a lot of large class sizes this year – students are finding it very difficult to switch courses. That’s specifically problematic if they are taking a hard course and they aren’t doing well and they need to switch into a lower course,” said Michael Creager, a senior at Hingham High and the correspondent at a recent School Committee meeting.

School Committee members are determined to make it work.

Members hope to alleviate some of the problems of higher class sizes with the money from the Education Jobs Fund, a federal grant designed to retain, bring back, or hire new teachers. Hingham received $326,663 of this money, and can spread out the spending over two years.

“While it was very tempting to look at the cuts and the large class sizes…to say, 'Wow, we could bring back teachers,' it didn’t seem like a practical thing to do to children already assigned to teachers. Nor did it seem fiscally prudent [to use it all this year],” said Dorothy Galo, the superintendent for Hingham schools.

“We looked instead at not replacing the things we lost, but mitigating the impact of the things we lost,” she said.

At the elementary level, tutors will be brought in to help with large class sizes in four core subject areas. Allocation of tutor hours will be based on the number of classrooms in a building that have 24 students or more, Galo said.

Rather than hire outside help for larger classrooms at the middle school, the committee decided to go in another direction.

“In the middle school, what seemed to be more appropriate would be mitigating other kinds of impacts that we have felt with the losses of the last two years,’ Galo said.

Instead, the middle school will be expanding the hours of the adjustment counselor, who is currently there part-time. In addition, the middle school would be hiring someone part-time to help with tech support.

All in all, half of the $326,663 will be used this year for those concerns. The remaining money will be used to address either the same things or higher priority needs in 2011-12, Galo said.

“We tried to reach a compromise between current needs and future,” Galo said.

The committee is hoping to have all of these things in place by the middle of this month.

“I think the important thing is that we love getting this … But we can really only dedicate it to things we’ll need this year and next,” said School Committee member Christine Smith.

Regardless of the work done this year, moving forward will prove even more difficult.

“I would be cautious moving forward,” said State Representative Garrett Bradley.

“Next year looks even more difficult than this year. We have a $2 million structural deficit, the job world is continuing [to struggle], it’s a slow recovery process. And the unknown is the valid question of the sales tax, which would take another $2.5 billion out of the revenue,” he said.

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