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Nayatt Classroom Sizes Raise Eyebrows

Barrington School Committee learns that second- grade classrooms have larger numbers than expected.

The sizes of Nayatt School second-grade classrooms had teachers and the Barrington School Committee asking questions at Tuesday night's meeting.

Class sizes for all the schools were revealed, and three elementary schools stood out for their higher-than-desired numbers at the second- and third-grade levels, including Nayatt and Primrose Hill.

Hampden Meadows has classes that range in size from 25 to 26 students.

“[The numbers] are quite high, no doubt about that,” said Superintendent Dr. Robert McIntyre.

He added that class sizes had been holding steady over the years. But more families moving into the Nayatt district added to class numbers there, with two of the four second-grade classrooms having 25 students each, and one having 26 students. Primrose Hill school has one second-grade class with 24 students and one with 23. It was the numbers at Nayatt that drew the most discussion.

During budget planning in early 2011, the School Committee planned to shuffle teacher assignments, creating five second-grade classrooms and four third-grade classes to keep class sizes smaller at younger ages.

Such an arrangement would have put second-grade class sizes at approximately 19 students each. However, when the school year started, there remained four second grade classes, and populations were at 25 and 26 students, while third-grade classrooms were in the low 20s and in one case, had 16 students.

School Committee member Kate Brody questioned the change, which McIntyre attributed to student needs at the third-grade level. When classrooms were planned, a third-grade student with special needs necessitated a smaller class environment.

“Because of the particular nature of this student, we were limited at how many students we could put in there,”  McIntyre said, though once school opened for the year, this turned out not to be the case.

Nayatt staff in attendance were able to confirm that the student in question was no longer attending the school.

“If we no longer have that student in our population, how can we best accommodate the needs of our students with regard to class size?” Brody asked.  “We had in our planning planned for five [teachers] in grade two.”

Kathy Kwolek, a second-grade teacher at Nayatt, expressed concern at the burgeoning class size, including its affect on student learning and assessments. She said that preparing students for the third grade NECAP exams falls largely on second-grade teachers, who are also working to hone literacy skills in new readers.

“We’re very concerned about how grade-two numbers continue to be at these high numbers and what the impact it is going to be,” she said.  “We do a great job at Nayatt and we do a great job at Primrose and Sowams. But it really does make the job that much harder.”

Not everyone agreed that a smaller class could help students. Nayatt school parent Paula Dominguez approached the School Committee and requested that it look at data that suggested class size may not play as big a role as originally thought in student achievement. She asked the School Committee to look at the “conflicting evidence” that class size was detrimental to student learning before hiring more teachers.

At no time was another teacher up for hire in that instance, she was told. Instead, a restructuring of current staff was recommended.

McIntyre said the answer might not be as simple as moving a teacher from one grade to another.

“I can look at the numbers again,” he said. “There’s no simple solution, I can tell you right now.”

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