Houlton faces big fifth grade class in fallClassroom overcrowding is not typically a problem at Houlton Elementary, often referred to as Hudson’s country school. But that may change for the school’s fifth grade this fall.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Classroom overcrowding is not typically a problem at Houlton Elementary, often referred to as Hudson’s country school. But that may change for the school’s fifth grade this fall.
With a large contingent of concerned parents in the audience, Hudson School Board members heard that 32 students have registered for the fifth-grade classroom at Houlton this fall. That is five students over the high end of the district’s recommended class size of 22-27 students per classroom for grades 3-5.
After hearing from several of the parents and talking at length about the issue, board members voted 3-2 to endorse the administration plan to provide an additional part-time teacher and the help of an educational assistant to work with the full-time classroom teacher.
Deputy Superintendent Nancy Sweet told the board that there are also rooms at two other schools where class sizes are over maximum enrollment guidelines: grade 4 at Rock Elementary at 28 students in three sections, and grade 5 at River Crest with 28 students per section.
Parents argued, with support from board member Brian Bell, that the cost difference to provide another full-time teacher at Houlton would “only be around $13,000” ($20,000 with benefits). Bell suggested the money could be found by making some other budget cut.
Sweet said that the administration has three approved teacher positions yet to be assigned and that those teachers may be needed for additional sections at Rock or River Crest before the beginning of school in the fall.
In her report Sweet noted that the administration is monitoring 10 grade levels that are under minimum enrollment guidelines at four buildings. “If those grade levels were to further decline, we would consider teacher or section reductions and a transfer to an over-enrolled grade level.”
Houlton parents raised concerns over the amount of physical space each student would have in a classroom of 32, a number that falls below state guidelines. They also questioned how the learning benchmarks of HSD 2025, the district’s long-range strategic plan, could be met in such a large class.
Parent Beth Hatch asked board members if they would want a student of theirs in a class of 32. And parent Tim Miner reminded board members that if they had approved the boundary changes proposed in January 2008 which would have added to Houlton’s enrollment, they would not be forced to deal with an overcrowded classroom.
Sweet said that if the situation allows, there might be an additional full-time teacher available for a second fifth grade at Houlton. “But for now we have to take it step by step and monitor the situation if we are to stay within the budget guidelines the board has given us.”
Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said the current proposal is a short-term solution and that a more long-term plan is being investigated including revisiting Houlton’s enrollment boundary. She also noted that the Houlton staff is looking into moving the fifth grade into one of the school’s larger classrooms.
Sweet also said, “The district has been generous to Houlton. These students have had an average of 15 in a class over the years. We would like to be able to do that in all our schools but it isn’t possible.”
Board President Dan Tjornehoj supported the administration proposal along with members Mark Kaisersatt and Tom Holland. Lynn Robson voted against the plan along with Bell.
In other business the board heard reports on 2009-10 curriculum plans for music and world language. In the area of music, there will be new instructional materials as well as a new professional learning plan implemented. The district’s orchestra instruction will be expanded to the high school and a new music elective will be considered for the middle school.
New materials are being reviewed for the Spanish and German curriculum along with the introduction of Mandarin Chinese at the secondary level. Language teachers will also be working on the plan to expand instruction to cover all grade levels including elementary. They will also be conducting a pilot study of “LinguaFolio,” an internationally accepted assessment tool that documents performance and promotes language as a lifelong learning practice.
The board heard a videotaped apology from Colin Courtney, one of the 14 HHS graduates who was involved in the vandalism of three area schools just days before his 2007 commencement ceremony. The entire incident resulted in damages of more than $30,000.
Courtney, who attends school in Colorado, was the last of the group to make his court-ordered apology to the board and the only one who did not appear in person. He thanked the court and the board for allowing him to do so electronically.
Courtney called his actions the “worst decision of his life” but took full responsibility for his behavior. He also noted that he was the first of the vandals to turn himself into school authorities, the first to make restitution and the first to submit his own unsolicited letter of apology to the board.
In response, board member Kaisersatt said that while he appreciated Courtney’s heartfelt apology, he was disappointed that he had not done so in person, noting that several others of those involved had traveled from out of state to fulfill the court’s original order. That said, Kaisersatt said he accepted the apology and wished Courtney the best.
In addition to the apology before the Hudson School Board, those convicted were ordered to do the same before the River Falls and New Richmond school boards, individually make restitution of around $3,000, do 70 hours of community service and to make a public apology via a letter in the local papers of all three communities.