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To reduce size of classes, Manchester moves teachers, kids today

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 29. 2013 9:40PM

MANCHESTER — Today the school district is set to put into place a plan to reduce class sizes by transferring teachers and students to other grades and schools.

Superintendent Debra Livingston had proposed the plan to address crowding in two dozen classes in the elementary schools. Under state standards, the maximum size for kindergarten through grade three classes is 25 students; it’s 30 students in grades three and above.

Under the plan, several smaller classes in the higher elementary grades are being combined so teachers can be reassigned to form additional first-grade and kindergarten classes. The other component of the plan is to ask parents of students in certain crowded grades at Henry Wilson and Jewett to voluntarily transfer to less-crowded classes at nearby schools. The district’s goal is to transfer a minimum of 32 students.

Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan said so far several families have expressed a willingness to transfer, adding that they recognize the opportunity for their children to be in smaller classes. Siblings of the transferred student would also be allowed to move to the school. The district would provide transportation if the new school is more than 1.4 miles away.

So far there hasn’t been a huge outcry, but some parents at Smyth Road have expressed concerns about the elimination of a fourth-grade class there to reassign the teacher to a new first-grade class at another school.

“Someone who was there yesterday morning told me that not only was the teacher in tears, but evidently the entire class was in tears when it was announced,” said Richard Joyal, whose son is in the fourth-grade class being eliminated.

Joyal said he understood the need to balance the size of classes in the elementary schools, but he said this should have been addressed before school started a month ago. “This should have happened before the teacher developed a plan and set everything in motion, the assignments, the purchases, the seating, the relationships — all those things that go into planning a course.”

Ryan conceded that the plan was not ideal.

“This is not the optimal way to maintain a balance of class sizes, particularly with the fragility of a young child,” he said. “It’s not a decision we came to easily, but we needed to change the way things happened in the past, in light of there being no additional funding to add personnel.”

The school board representatives for the wards most affected by the plan, Wards 5 and 8, said last week that they hadn’t received complaints from constituents.

Erika Connors, Ward 8, praised Livingston’s approach to the problem. “I think this is the first time I’ve seen somebody start thinking outside the box a bit. In the past we heard we don’t have the funding, so we can’t,” said Connors. The plan also had to be coordinated with the city teachers union, the Manchester Education Association. Ryan said MEA President Ben Dick was accommodating. “I like to look at this as a really good step in the right direction, everybody working on the same page to make the district a better place for kids, particularly during negotiations,” he said.

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