I'm posting another story about the declining enrollment that the Amherst elementary schools are experiencing, which was discussed at length at the Amherst SC meeting last night (http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/07/22/amherst-board-looking-declining-elementary-enrollment). As reported at last night's meeting, the initial projections last fall were that there would be 1243 students K to 6. The students enrolled thus far (basically a month before school starts) are 1177, meaning 66 fewer than anticipated (about 40 students fewer than projected in kindergarten, and about 20 fewer 1st to 6th). I find this really concerning, as I believe it suggests that families are opting out of our elementary schools for other options (choice, charter, private). I look forward to a report this fall on the reasons given by families making other choices, given our new exit survey policy.
In addition, the class size averages are VERY low in some schools/some grades, which indicates to me that we are perhaps not using our resources in the best way. For example, in the 6th grade at Crocker Farm, there will be three classes with 15 students in each class (45 6th graders total), yet our target class size for this grade is 24 and our maximum is 27. We could easily divide 45 kids into 2 classes (22 in one, 23 in one) and still be BELOW our target and our maximum! Here's another example: at Fort River, there are 70 kids in 6th grade which has been divided into 4 classrooms of 17 or 18 in each. I have no idea why we would make a choice to divide the teachers that way when we could easily divide the 70 kids in 6th grade into 3 classrooms of 23-24 each (again, still below our target and our maximum). If we had made different choices, that would save 2 teachers that we could use to, for example, increase our instrumental music program, provide more afterschool care, or increase the grades covered in our Spanish program (which will start this fall for 1st and 2nd graders). These are precisely the types of choices that I believe the community should weigh in on, and the School Committee should share their own beliefs with the superintendent as we plan for the future.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.