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August 13. 2013 8:00PM

Nashua makes strides in reducing classroom crowding

NASHUA — When Nashua’s youngest students start school next month, classrooms will be less crowded thanks to five new elementary teachers, but there are still some concerns about class sizes in schools throughout the district.

According to elementary school enrollment projections for the coming school year, fifth-grade classes at Main Dunstable, Ledge Street and the Dr. Crisp schools will have an average of 26 to 27 students. While those numbers are below the state’s class size cap of 30, they exceed Nashua’s goal of 25 students or fewer in upper elementary grades.

In grades one and two, the state’s maximum allowable class size is 25, but Nashua has set a target of 20. First-grade classes at Birch Hill and New Searles schools are expected to average 23 students, while second-graders at Charlotte Avenue and New Searles may ultimately be in classes with 23 and 24 students.

“Our goal of 20 or below wasn’t possible given the budget constraints,” said Board of Education member Steven Haas.

Still, Haas, who chairs the BOE’s Human Resources Committee, feels the district has made significant progress in reducing class size.

“I certainly see it that way,” he said. “If we had the funds to hire another teacher or two, it would help, but we don’t.”

For the 2012-13 school year, the average class size for grades one and two through the state was 17.8 students. Last year, Nashua had an average of 20.7 students in first-grade classes and 20.9 in the second grade.

In September, Nashua’s first-graders are expected to be in classes that average 19.3 students while second-grade classes are expecting an average of 20.3 students.

Last year’s state average for grades three and four was 19.3 students while Nashua’s averages were 22 and 22.3. This year, Nashua’s grade three class size averages are expected to drop to 21.1 while grade four is projected to be 21.4

The greatest gains in reducing class size were made in kindergarten. Last year, 25 students were enrolled in Mount Pleasant’s kindergarten classes while other schools had 23 and 24 children in their kindergarten classes.

This year, with the exception of Amherst and Birch Hill schools, all of Nashua’s kindergarten classes are expected to have fewer than 20 students.

But board member Sandra Ziehm saw a different problem in the numbers. Students with special needs who spend time in both traditional classrooms and special programs are not included in class size averages. When those students are figured in, fourth-grade classes at Birch Hill School would have an average of closer to 26 students while first-grade classes at Amherst would average close to 23 students.

“Those numbers are high, and they will never change if the public is not aware of them,” said Ziehm, who added she was concerned about resources for low-income and special needs students.

But Superintendent Mark Conrad said it would be a mistake to do that math. Conrad said students with intensive needs and or emotional handicaps spend limited blocks of time in traditional classes, and because of their schedules, they are there at different times.

Although final enrollment numbers are not available until October, Conrad seemed optimistic that class sizes would still show improvement.

“The average elementary class size in Nashua is 22.5,” he said.

btaormina@newstote.com


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