District to look at class size, extra teacher

Concerns from parents of Hillendale Elementary School third-graders have caught the attention of Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board directors.

The board and district administrators will begin looking at making changes to add a third language arts teacher, and possibly, to change how class sizes are determined.

The two third-grade classes at Hillendale are currently at the maximum size of 26 students. Parents, however, think that is too many students and have spent time during the last two school board meetings to raise awareness of their concerns that students are not getting the attention they need.

Beginning during the Oct. 19 work session, the parents asked for a third language arts teacher to help students prepare for the PSSA exams.

The theme continued during the opening comment period at the Oct. 26 regular meeting. Almost two-dozen parents of Hillendale third-graders attended the meeting; only a few spoke, however.

Leslie Neuberger, of Pennsbury Township, said the current group of third-graders “has been squeezed from the beginning with larger than average class sizes. This year we’re feeling the pinch a bit more acutely with the children’s PSSAs coming up in March.”

She continued, saying the “targeted instruction,” focusing on a specific component of the curriculum works better with a smaller group of students.

“With fewer students, our language arts teachers can become more nimble and offer more individualized instruction,” Neuberger said.

The result would be better instruction for PSSAs as well as overall educational excellence, she added.

Reducing class size would allow teachers more time to go deeper into the texts students were reading and help to “accelerate all students, offer to support to our strugglers and enrich our strongest readers,” Neuberger said.

Another Hillendale parent, Toby Quinlan, from East Marlborough Township, said she learned more as a student in smaller classes where there was more interaction with the teachers. She said that was an experience she’d like her son to have at Hillendale.

She said third-grade classes throughout the district range in size from 19 to 26, with Hillendale being at 26.

With fewer students, she said, there’s more room for the students, and teachers would have less administrative work to do and would be able to provide more individual attention to each student.

She asked the district to reconsider the guideline for class size.

Leticia Flores DeWilde, from Pennsbury Township, who served briefly on the school board as an appointee, said today’s third-graders at Hillendale have had to deal with larger class sizes for two years running.

She said studies show students participate more in smaller classes and that “they display less disruptive behavior in small classes and teachers spend less time on discipline, leaving more time for instruction.”

School Board President Vic Dupuis said he’s discussed the matter with Superintendent John Sanville and that they agreed to look at two different aspects: examining class size guidelines and adding a third language arts teacher.

Adding the teacher is a matter of immediate relief, but addressing class size is a bigger issue.

Class size, Dupuis said, “is a budget matter that will be addressed during the normal budget exploration process…As far as the immediate issue of the language art…I’ve asked the administration to bring specific information to our Curriculum and Education Technology Committee meeting in November.”

After further discussion, that matter will be addressed at the work session, not at the committee meeting so that Director Michael Rock can sit in on the conversation. Rock works late on Mondays and would not be able to get to the committee meeting on time.

Director Gregg Lindner said he wants the board to begin a search for candidates who might fill the extra teaching slot if the board agrees in November to add one.

Other business

  • Directors formally accepted the resignation of Keith Knauss from the board.
  • The district will be holding a Community Conversation on school safety on Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. in the UHS cafeteria.  A 27-point plan was adopted in 2013 in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook. This is a follow-up to that because of two recent incidents where weapons were found in cars at Patton Middle School and Unionville High School.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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