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Derry school district tackles school crowding


DERRY — A paraprofessional has been hired and is already working in an effort to ease crowding in the fifth grade at Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, school officials said.

And at Grinnell Elementary, plans are moving along to add a third fifth-grade class and hire an additional teacher, said Superintendent Laura Nelson.

The School Board voted earlier this month to make the changes in an effort to ease crowding at both elementary schools.

Of Barka’s four fifth-grade classrooms, three have 27 students and one has 25 students. The school district recommends that a fifth-grade classroom not exceed 25 students, Nelson said.

Crowding is more severe at Grinnell, where there are two classrooms with 29 and 30 students in each classroom, Nelson said.In the past several weeks, Barka Principal Dan LaFleur met with Nelson and appeared before the School Board to help find a solution to the crowding. Nelson also met with fifth-grade teachers.

LaFleur credited Nelson and School Board Chairman Brenda Willis in helping work with teachers to find the best solution.

“The teachers felt valued,” LaFleur said.

It was agreed that it would be too disruptive to pull students out of the classes and move them into a fifth classroom. The current teachers work in teams of two per classroom and adding a fifth teacher would have created an odd number of teachers and disrupted the bonding between teachers and students.

Adding a fifth classroom would also have only lowered the average size of the classroom enough to justify the change, LaFleur added.

It was agreed that it would be better to add a paraprofessional who could assist the teachers and enhance the educational process, LaFleur said.

Since the board’s vote, the school has hired Samantha Wallack, who is also a certified teacher, LaFleur said.

“We’ve were able to bring someone on board last week, and it’s been very successful,” LaFleur said.

As for Grinnell, Nelson said plans are moving along to help ease the crowding by adding a third fifth-grade classroom and teacher. The current student population of 59 students, an average of 29.5 students per classroom, would be reduced to around just 20 students per classroom with the addition of the third classroom, she said.

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