SARATOGA SPRINGS – Parents at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School –one of the five elementary schools in the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD) –are worried about how large class sizes are affecting their children’s education. Dorothy Nolan has twice as many students as the other grade schools, yet has a total of four less sections (classes) when comparing it to the current student population.
Parents are demanding that the school board add a third grade section which was removed in 2015/16 and also, that they do not go through with cutting a second grade section in 2016/17 as planned.
Without these changes, parents have projected that second grade sections will have a 20.4 percent higher class size than other grade schools and third grade will have a 24 percent higher class size.
“We created our own task force, the Concerned Parents of Dorothy Nolan. We have about 300 parents involved so far,” said Jessica Marriott, whose son will be going into third grade next year. Marriott took data provided by the school board and used it to create documents and graphs that project what second and third grade class sizes will be, which she presented at the last board meeting on April 21.
“This is our first year in the district,” she continued. “Had I known what I know now, that the classes were so large, I would have chosen one of the other elementary schools. I would not have moved to this neighborhood.”
However, according to Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of SSCD, changes cannot be made to class sections until total student enrollment has been accounted for, which won’t be until the end of the summer.
“Our process, which we’ve used for 20 years, is to monitor the enrollment in sections across the elementary level. We’ll be making adjustments closer to next school year to account for enrollment fluctuations.” said Piccirillo. “We have a lot more movement from outside the district over the summer than people think. Families move and enrollment levels can go up or down significantly. Often, enrollment will fluctuate into September, and it can fluctuate dramatically.”
“We understand their concern about class size,” added Piccirillo. “But we’re not ready to make any decisions.”
Projections also show that even though class sizes at Dorothy Nolan are larger than other elementary schools, the projected class sizes are still below the district’s target class size of 27.
“If it goes above that target size of 27, we’ll add another section,” said Piccirillo, who noted that adding sections is factored into the budget already, just in case the need arises.
Nevertheless, parents feel that the target class size of 27 is are still too large and also, too dated.
“We need to look at what other schools are doing and reexamine our target class sizes,” said Marriott. “Our target class sizes have been around since the 1990s. Students have different needs nowadays. We need to give them the best education they can get in the modern age.”
Fellow concerned parent Jackie O’Donnell is also worried about her son, who is moving on to third grade at Dorothy Nolan next year.
“Third grade is the transition into intermediate – it’s when teachers start asking them to be more independent and it’s also the first year of state testing,” said O’Donnell. “We started realizing how inequitable it was for our kids at Dorothy Nolan. They’re going into middle school with different experiences than other kids in schools with lower class sizes. Dorothy Nolan students are not on an equal playing field.”
One parent of a Dorothy Nolan second grader, Brad Thomas, is going one step further to see change happen at the school: he’s running for the school board.
“My reaction to the meeting [on April 21], and the reason I’m running, is that it’s not interactive enough,” explained Thomas, who has been a teacher at Burnt Hills for 22 years. “All problems can be solved or worked on successfully if you have that kind of dialogue between parents and school district personnel. The great thing about the 21st Century is that it’s easy to join in and follow that dialogue.”
If elected, Thomas plans to use social media as an avenue to build engagement between parents, board and administration. He also wants the board to take the initiatives parents have been taking to make conclusions about class sizes, such as what Jessica Marriott did.
“Planning is a full time job. Instead of the board presenting the data, the parents are. Why isn’t this core idea being presented by the board and administrators?” questioned Thomas.
On the other hand, Piccirillo noted that the district does care about class sizes, but it’s also just one factor of many when it comes to success in the classroom.
“Research is inconclusive when it comes to class size and student achievement. You have to get down to a really low class size, like 15 students, for it to really have an impact,” said Piccirillo. “We have high quality teachers and there is a lot of support for them, such as math and literacy coaches, reading teachers, teacher assistants – we have a lot of resources we can and do use to support students.”
Though final decisions are not ready to be made yet, parents are still asking for more open conversation with the board and administration.
“We can all sit down, look at the numbers and figure out a strategy,” concluded Marriott. “Together, we can make things better for this important school that makes up nearly 30 percent of the elementary population in the district.”
The next school board meeting is coming up on May 10, and will focus on the school budget and voting on May 17. For more information about SSCSD, visit saratogaschools.org.