FLEMINGTON, NJ - A policy proposed by the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District administration to increase class sizes by one student at the kindergarten and first grade levels has been tabled for further research after five teachers came forward to voice their opposition.
The board of education passed the motion to table in a 6-0 vote.
According to the drafted policy, the maximum allowed size of a kindergarten class would increase from 18 to 19 students, and the maximum allowed size of a first grade class would increase from 20 to 21 students. The minimum class size for kindergarten and first grade would remain at 15 students.
Kathy Mikalsen, a kindergarten teacher at Barley Sheaf Elementary School, has 16 kids (4- and 5-year- olds) in her classroom. She told the board that each child has his or her own needs and characteristics, and that each child deserves as much love and attention as can be shown, so that “their lights can shine as brightly as possible.”
“I don’t want in any way to come off as a teacher who is looking to keep a smaller class size because it is going to be easier,” she said. “That’s not the thing at all. I’m just here instead to advocate for my little ones, for my student who needs me to put that post-it note over the automatic flush sensor in the toilet, because she is afraid of the toilet. I’m here to advocate for my student who needs to rest in the calm down area, because he is tired and overwhelmed, and he needs me to work with him one on one later on.”
“I’m here to advocate for my kid who wants to play a super challenging game of ‘Splat’ with me, because he is ready to add things up to 100,” she said. “And, I’m here to advocate for the kid who is reading books that only have two words per page, and also for my student who is reading with a third grade fluency.”
Pam Minch, a kindergarten teacher at Francis A. Desmares School, said she and her colleagues are very concerned about the proposed policy that affects students, many who come with obstacles such as separation anxiety, toiletry issues or the inability or lack of desire to spend a full day focused on learning, to name a few.
“Although raising the number of students by one child may not seem like a big deal, in actuality it is,” she said. “If you have recently spent any time in one of our classrooms, you would realize that kindergarten is like being in a whole other world. There is no down time in kindergarten. The children need constant attention.”
She warned that spreading the teachers too thin would result in each student not receiving everything he or she needs and deserves.
“Increasing class sizes by one student may seem minor,” said Susan Fischer, first grade teacher at Barley Sheaf Elementary School. “However, I’ve been teaching for 25 years, I can assure you that one more student does have an impact. This year, I started with 20 students, the most I’ve had in a number of years. I first noticed that things were going to be different when setting up my classroom and preparing for the school year. Four sets of five kids was just too much to work efficiently. Five sets of four kids took up too much space, unless someone was up against the window.’
She shared the varying impacts of more students in a first grade classroom, whether it be time spent on the rug, academics, or the growing emotional needs.
The maximum could be 20 students at the start of the school year, she noted, but this number could rise to 21 or 22 if new students move into the district.
Superintendent Kari McGann, who is a former elementary school teacher, said, “With a majority of my years in preschool, kindergarten and first grade, over 25 years, I hear every word that you are saying. It is a tiring job from the time you get in the building until you go to bed at night.”
She added that there was a lot of discussion on the regulations for class size up until the Monday board meeting.
“Yes, I agree that we need to think about our students first, and the needs that they have as their teachers,” she said. “But, I can also say that for over 25 years, yes, it was a different time, but I taught, I had 24 kids in my class, 25 kids in my class, and I was in an at-risk Chapter 1 school, so I recognize the challenge, and I appreciate the board’s idea to table it to gather more information, but I don’t want to say that it is null and gone.”
As a result of the motion to table, the policy committee will have more discussions and time for discovery on the proposed changes to enrollment, board president Tim Bart said.
Board member Chris Walker added that he may bring the policy back to the curriculum committee for review.
Walker asked why this needs to be a policy if class sizes in some cases are already at 18 or 21.
“I think the students move into the district after the classes are set,” Bart said.
McGann said later that this was designed as a way to memorialize what is already happening with class sizes.
She added that the most common example where class sizes are exceeding the current maximum is at Francis A. Desmares School (K-4).
The current policy, known as Regulation 2312, “Class Size,” was adopted in February 2017.