Administrators in Riverside Elementary School District 96 are scrambling this week to hire three new teachers’ aides to help in three classrooms with unusually high enrollment, by District 96 standards.
The kindergarten class at Hollywood School is expected to have 24 students when school begins on Aug. 25 and the two first-grade classes at Ames School are expected to have 25 students each.
That far exceeds the district’s class size policy, which recommends a class size of no larger than 20 students in kindergarten through third grade.
In recent years, the school board routinely has waived that policy, but officials thought the two classes at Ames and the Hollywood kindergarten class were so large that last week they sought out parents to voluntarily move their children to less crowded classrooms at Central School.
Central School has 50 kindergarten students split between three sections and has just 20 students in each of its three first-grade classrooms.
But officials found no takers, so they’ve decided to hire three new paraprofessionals for the three especially large classes.
“It was certainly worth a try,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye of the offer to transfer kids to Central. “The timing is just complicated. Who wants to change schools when you’ve been telling your child this is where they’re going?”
If the three new aides are not ready to begin work on Aug. 25, the two first-grade classes at Ames and the kindergarten class at Hollywood will have a substitute teacher on hand to help the regular classroom teacher until the new teacher aides can start working.
Kindergarteners and first-graders need the most help with things, so those large classes can most benefit from having a second adult in the classroom, Ryan-Toye said.
“I think a paraprofessional will support instruction, but will also help with the welcoming and the coordinating and a lot of those aspects that go into teaching, particularly with those youngest students,” Ryan-Toye said.
Ideally, the district would have had a better handle on enrollment earlier, Ryan-Toye said.
“Registrations were a little bit later than usual,” said Ryan-Toye who took the reins of the school district July 1. “Originally, I think, in procedures the idea was that you would fix this by like May-June, but what happened is that things kind of just kept creeping up all summer long.”
Blythe Park School’s only first-grade class will have 23 students this year while Hollywood’s first grade class is expected to have 22 students. Those classrooms will not have a teacher’s aide.
The smallest elementary school class in the district will be the fifth-grade class at Blythe Park School which will have only 14 students. There will be 24 students in the fifth-grade class at Hollywood School, the district’s other one section school.
Hollywood School parents, in particular, tend to be very attached to their neighborhood school and are not keen on sending their kids across First Avenue to another elementary school.
Enrollment up at Hauser
L.J. Hauser Junior High School will be more crowded this year with 633 students expected to show up on Thursday compared to the 588 students who started at Hauser a year ago, an increase of about 7 percent.
To deal with the increased enrollment and the addition of a new elective class in science and technology, three additional teachers have been hired at Hauser. The district’s certified staff will increase by nearly six positions overall this year.
The district as a whole has 22 new teachers and other certified staff this year, most of whom participated in a four-day unpaid orientation program last week.
Last year the district hired 14 new teachers while in the 2014-15 school year the district added 28 new certified staff members. The large increase in 2014-15 was due in part to the district bringing school psychologist positions in-house instead of using a cooperative.
Managing enrollment has been a continuing issue in District 96. The district recently purchased a home next door to Ames School, giving it options as it seeks more classroom and playground space.
In her letter to the Ames and Hollywood parents seeking volunteers to transfer their kids to Central School, Ryan-Toye also included an invitation to join the district’s facility planning process.
Ryan-Toye is creating committee to plan for future space needs. That committee is expected to recommend how to use the property next to Ames.
At last week’s school board meeting Bill Howes, the president of the Riverside Education Council, the teachers’ union, said the larger class sizes impact the educational experience that students receive and urged the board to come up with ways to reduce class sizes in the future.
“Hopefully, an increase of space through the strategic plan can be implemented in time to avoid more primary classes of 25 students or more,” Howes said.