A surge of last-minute registrations surprised administrators and resulted in crowded first-grade classrooms at the start of the school year at Brook Park Elementary School.
“The numbers really exploded in that seven- to 10-day window prior to when the school year started,” said Mark Kuzniewski, the superintendent of Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95.
A total of 138 first-graders were crammed into the usual five sections of first grade at Brook Park, creating an average class size in first grade of 27.6 students. Kuzniewski and Brook Park Principal Mike Sorensen decided that they were not going to live with that.
“That number, for Mike and I, was just not conducive to what we wanted in terms of classroom size,” Kuzniewski said. “We don’t have a standard size set by board policy or anything, but a class size of 140 split between five sections, we didn’t like that scenario.”
So, even though the school year had already begun, Sorensen and Kuzniewski decided to create another section of first grade at Brook Park. That took some time: a teacher had to be hired and a space for a classroom had to be found.
“It took us three weeks to get it done,” Kuzniewski said.
Sorensen began interviewing teachers and ultimately hired Jen Barkowicz to teach the new first-grade class. Barkowicz started on Sept. 15, nearly four weeks after the first day of school on Aug. 20. She spent her first week observing the five existing first-grade sections and getting to know students.
Sorensen had the difficult task of picking kids from the five existing sections to create a new class.
He asked the parents of first-graders if they would volunteer their children to be moved to the new first-grade class. About 10 volunteered and ultimately seven or eight of those students moved into Barkowicz’s new class, Sorenson said.
The new class, which has 22 students in it, met for the first time for an hour on Sept. 19 after the students moving to the new class had a little ceremony in their previous classrooms.
On Sept. 22 the new class was intact and was ready to roll.
“Probably the biggest challenge was that we already had kids in classrooms and then we had to kind of take them away from those classrooms and redistribute them into the new classroom,” said Kuzniewski, who credited Sorensen’s handling of the situation.
“Quite frankly he did a phenomenal job of communicating with parents,” Kuzniewski said.
Sorensen praised parents for being flexible and accepting the change.
“It was a great transition,” Sorensen said. “Very positive and supportive parents.”
Finding space for the new classroom wasn’t easy, as Brook Park enrollment currently stands at a record-high of 730 students.
“We are completely out of space,” Kuzniewski said. “We had to shuffle staff around to create classroom space.”
Custodians worked overtime over a weekend to transform the reading-improvement room into a first-grade classroom. The reading-improvement room moved into the former English as a Second Language room, which in turn moved into offices that had been used by the school psychologist and the speech and language pathologist.
Those two part-time employees are now sharing office space with other staff.
With enrollment projected to continue to increase and Brook Park already bursting at the seams, District 95 is looking at alternatives for expansion and adding space at both its schools.
Parents have been invited to the Oct. 23 meeting of the school board, where a demographic study the district commissioned will be discussed and space needs discussed.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at S.E. Gross Middle School, 3524 Maple Ave. in Brookfield.
District 95 officials also have scheduled two community forums, on Oct. 28 at Brook Park School and Nov. 3 at S.E. Gross School, to discuss space needs and possible plans to address those needs. Both meetings are at 7 p.m.