Concerns Raised Over Crowded Classrooms

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Overloaded fourth-grade classrooms at Julia Randall Elementary School have parents, teachers and administrators at Julia Randall Elementary scrambling to find answers.

According to Aug. 19 attendance reports, JRE has 80 students enrolled in fourth grade. Payson Elementary School has 57 and Frontier Elementary has 68.

All three schools have three teachers assigned to fourth grade. That means each teacher at JRE has an average of about 27 pupils in their classrooms. At Frontier, the class load is about 23 students and at PES, it's 19 students per classroom.

The two largest classes at JRE, those taught by Shawnee Bauer and Lisa Dunman, have 27 students each. Mary Jones has 26 students. That's far too many fourth-graders is a classroom, parents Linda Jackson and Marlene Armstrong say. Both have children enrolled in fourth grade at JRE and have been vocal in trying to remedy the overcrowding problems.

The two have taken their concerns to a school board meeting and last week met face-to-face with School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels and Business Manager Bobbette Sylvester.

The solutions offered by Weissenfels and Sylvester are not satisfactory, the two woman say.

The administrators' solutions have included hiring a full-time federally funded aide to assist in all three classrooms.

"We've done that," Weissenfels said.

The administrators also have mulled over moving a fifth-grade teacher to fourth, but that would only shift the student load to another grade, Weissenfels said. The two administrators have considered shifting a second-grade teacher, where student counts are low, to fourth grade. That wasn't possible because one of the second-grade teacher's is a Title One teacher and by law can have only a limited number of students.

Forming a new class which would be made up of both fourth- and fifth-grade students also was explored.

Jackson, Armstrong and some other parents say that's not the answer. They would rather have another full-time fourth-grade teacher hired.

The only problem is, there's no money to do so.

When the 2004-2005 budget was adopted in July, Sylvester said all items were accounted for to the penny and there were no excesses.

Weissenfels says he hopes that JRE parents look at the overall district picture and make their decisions on what is best for all the children.

Jackson and Armstrong contend it's their duty to look out for the best interests of their children and their classmates. The overcrowding at JRE, both say, has some parents withdrawing their children for home-schooling or considering transferring them to the Shelby School.

"I applaud them for their efforts," Weissenfels said of their efforts.

Jackson and Armstrong's last hope might be to approach the school board at its Sept. 13 regular meeting -- the soonest they can get on the board's agenda.

Both say they do plan to plea their case at that meeting.

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