District responds with fifth fourth-grade classroom
August 25, 2012
Mount Vernon has added a new fourth-grade section to the elementary school. As of Monday, Washington Elementary now has five fourth-grade classrooms after starting the school year last week with four. The school board unanimously voted to make this change at its Aug. 13 meeting. The first day of school was Aug. 14.
Parents met with superintendent Pam Ewell and Washington Elementary's new principal, Mike Hansen, before presenting their plea to the school board at the board's regular meeting. About 10 fourth-grade parents were at the meeting.
Although the issue was not on the agenda, the item was added at the beginning of the meeting, allowing for an emergency vote on a motion made by board member Virginia Roudabush to research the issue in terms of budget and educational need, and decide which action to take. The board unanimously approved and authorized the administration to add a half- or full-time position.
The district did that last week, with a substitute starting Monday. A hiring decision will be made this coming week.
"I wanted this section to begin as soon as possible to give students a chance to begin building relationships with their peers and the teacher," Hansen said of adding another section.
The fourth grade in the school has 95 students. With four sections, that is 24 students in three sections and 23 in the fourth. This exceeds the threshold set by the board of 23 students per fourth-grade class. In kindergarten, the class had four sections, in first five, in second four, and in third five.
Parents approached Noreen Bush at the end of the school year and were told, according to a parent speaking at the meeting, that the issue was not up for discussion.
Since then, several more students have enrolled, making the class sizes exceed recommendations.
The board listened to the parents and asked Ewell what options there might be.
"We could add another (half-time) position to help with teaching core subjects, such as literacy and math. We could ask Nannette Gunn to go back to fourth grade and take a section. Or, we could add another section and hire a new person for that classroom," said Ewell.
Gunn, a former classroom teacher, is now teaching technology.
Board member Paul Morf said he didn't think moving Gunn back was the best option, saying "This [technology teaching] position is very important too."
Several parents in the audience agreed, saying they did not think that was an optimal solution either.
The half-time teacher option was discussed, but parents continued to push for another section, saying that this class has unique attributes in terms of educational need as well as discipline issues that can be better handled with fewer students.
Adding another section, however, would disrupt not only the fourth grade but possibly portions of the rest of the school. The entire schedule for art, music, and PE might require an overhaul to add in another time slot.
Ewell said she will look into the problem and present to the board "sooner rather than later. The quicker we get this done, the better."
The district was quick, with the new set-up starting this week.