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Whitefish Bay board considers class size cap

Uneven growth in schools raises question

Oct. 22, 2013

Whitefish Bay — In its recent review of 2013-14 student enrollment, the Whitefish Bay School Board raised the issue of possibly setting a class size policy in the future — something the district has not traditionally done.

Taking into consideration the growth at some grade levels, board member Kristin Yunker asked whether the district has adequate space available in its facilities. Business Services Director Shawn Yde said there have been some minor space challenges, but nothing the district should be too concerned with at this time.

Interim Superintendent Laura Myrah reported to the board that enrollment this school year grew by 32 students, slightly under the district's projected increase of 46. The gain is consistent with the trend of steady or increasing enrollment that the district has experienced for the past 12 years, Myrah said.

More, and less

Based on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's third Friday count taken on Sept. 20, 3,087 students, including both resident and nonresident, are currently enrolled in Whitefish Bay schools. The district financially serves a total of 2,849 resident students, including those who attend schools or programs outside of the district, this school year, compared with 2,817 students last fall.

But the growth was hardly evenly spread, or could be termed "growth" at all in some schools.

Cumberland Elementary experienced the most growth this year, with an increase of 26 students. Richards Elementary gained an additional five students.

Meanwhile, enrollment decreased by eight students at the middle school and 16 students at the high school.

The most significant increase in resident student enrollment this year occurred at the fifth-grade level, which increased by 59 students. Other considerable increases include 32 students at 11th grade and 28 students at eighth grade. Alternately, ninth grade decreased by 33 students and seventh grade by 26 students.

Controlling the numbers

In places where an influx of students was evident, the concern that a school could run out of space unexpectedly seemed somewhat warranted.

As a safeguard to the risk of putting its buildings at capacity, the district does have control over non-resident enrollment, Myrah noted, and could decrease its open enrollment and Chapter 220 seats, if necessary.

Yunker and others also expressed concern about increases in the number of students per classroom, particularly at the junior kindergarten level at Cumberland, which includes sections with 25 students, as well as in core subject classes at the high school or classrooms that may contain several special needs students.

Myrah explained that at the high school level, for example, staff will consider the cases where it would be less than adequate to have larger class sizes and make an effort to break students out into additional sections.

Board President Pamela Woodard pointed out that the district has not typically had a class size policy, instead addressing the issue with a "common sense approach" that focuses on the unique situation of each class or grade level.

How high is too high?

However, she agreed that some of the class sizes at the high school have gotten a little high.

"I think it would be interesting to know how many classes have 30 (students)," Woodard said, and whether that may be due primarily to special scheduling situations. "But if it's every geometry class has 30, that would probably concern me that maybe we need to allocate more resources."

Parent Jennifer Dragseth also urged the board to be "very careful" about class sizes.

"Sometimes we forget there's only one year that kid's in 4K," Dragseth stated, as an example. "And if it happens to be the year that there's 25 kids, that's really hard."

She noted that growing class sizes at the middle and high school levels are a concern as well, and suggested that implementing a class size policy might help the district to be more creative in addressing the issue.

Yde said class sizes this school year remain comparable to what they have been during recent years, describing Whitefish Bay's student-to-teacher ratios as "very favorable" compared to other school districts.

Based on this year's enrollment count, the district already is projecting enrollment for the 2014-15 school year to increase by 36 students. Enrollment projections, which have been relatively accurate in recent years, play a critical role in the district's budget development and staffing decisions, Yde said.

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