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School Board Moves to Allow Flexibility in Kindergarten Class Size

The move made at last week's School Board meeting is intended to help stem the problem of overcrowding at area elementary schools.

The Alexandria School Board last week gave Superintendent Morton Sherman more flexibility in enabling him to increase the size of kindergarten classes to help stem problems arising from overcrowding.

Sherman said he would prefer to keep class sizes small, but the option to increase the cap to 22 students per class would allow more kindergartners to be accepted into the ACPS system and school of their parents’ choice.

School Board member Blanche Maness said she thought if a classroom has a quality teacher, students will get a good education even if the number is as high as 25, for example.

Former board Chairman Yvonne Folkerts cautioned that higher enrollment also puts pressures on school day activities like seating and serving children in the cafeteria.

The discussion was partly spun out of concerns that children, especially kindergartners, because of overcrowding or requests for transfers to a different ACPS school.

Sherman said that new development at Potomac Yard, Landmark Mall and Beauregard corridor are going to attract more families, and ACPS will need to figure out how to accommodate more students in the classroom.

In a discussion about where any proposed new schools might be built, Sherman said the .8 acre behind Potomac Yard near is entirely too small for a school, adding: “Within the next six to eight years, we’re going to be out of space even with the addition of...three schools.” He said the city needs to lock in ideas for a fourth and fifth elementary school on the east and west sides of the city.

Sherman also said he would consider the requests of board members Mimi Carter and Ronnie Campbell, who pushed for an earlier kindergarten registration start date or other solutions so that parents would know earlier in the season which school their children are expected to attend.

Vice Chair Helen Morris said while altering the dates could benefit some residents, use prudence because “we have families who are on it and others who don’t know the system… What’s the appropriate amount of time to reach those families?”

Sherman said 24 percent to 26 percent of ACPS families don’t have Internet access at home, but new technology applications such as Twitter were proving to be effective tools to reach out to families through mobile devices.

During a discussion of class sizes, Sherman noted that Virginia has applied for a waiver to the No Child Left Behind law. If Virginia does receive a waiver, Alexandria parents would no longer be able to request that their child transfer to another school because their home school failed to meet certain test standards. There could be other individual cases where an administrative transfer would be approved though.

With the policy change, the number of administrative transfers is likely to decrease and so curb the number of students requesting to be enrolled at certain more high-performing Alexandria schools. Board member Marc Williams cited data showing that 232 transfers were approved for the last school year due to NCLB requirements.

 “The administrative transfer piece… is a pretty good provision but we say 'no' to some administrative transfers,” Sherman said, adding that it’s a good idea for neighborhood parents to “roll up their sleeves” and improve their home school.

The NCLB waiver would be effective by July 1 for the new academic year, and Sherman said he expects to hear by April if the waiver is accepted.

Bea Porter March 27, 2012 at 01:58 PM
That's funny that you say Jefferson-Houston wiill restrict ability to accept new students will be more difficult because according to Dr. Sherman and the school board they are expecting the new building to accommodate 800 students, considering it currently has an enrollment of approximately 320 students, that leaves room for for another 500 kids which should include kindergarten students. And, personally, when I was in elementary school and up through high school our smallest classes were 35 students, so to have a class with only 22 children in it is really small with room for more. If our current teachers can not teach the students that's the problem.
Rob Krupicka March 27, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I am happy to see the schools working to ensure families can be confident they will get into their neighborhood school. Growing school population is a sign of a healthy community, but it does put strain on our resources. In answer to some of the comments: 1) The northern PYard school site is for an urban school design. It is a small space, but it can accept an appropriately designed school. It certainly can't accept all of the student needs in the area, though. Cora Kelly is identified in the capital budget for renovation and expansion in the next few years. And as part of the Landmark mall redevelopment, we need to push for a new school site as well. We also need to start planning for what happens when our middle schools and high school get beyond capacity. 2) Development certainly has an impact on school growth, but isn't the cause of all of it. Alexandria is one of the slowest population growth communities in the region over the last ten years. We are lucky to live in a region with job growth which does lead to population growth, but Alexandria grows slower than the region due to a number of controls we put on our development process. Our school population has grown substantially faster than the overall city population. As homes turnover in the city, more families are moving in.
Leslie Hagan March 27, 2012 at 05:25 PM
It used to be that class sizes were in the 30's. However, in those days, the students were a far more homogeneous group - generally the same race, all speaking English as a native language, raised in families with the same cultural and societal values. Today's classroom looks quite a bit different - mixed racially and culturally, many speaking a foreign language as a native tongue while struggling with English, learning disabled, some with ADD or ADHD, some mentally challenged, some emotionally disturbed but all entitled to be in a regular classroom. It isn't that any ACPS teachers cannot teach a class of 35 but one cannot realistically expect any teacher to meet all of the divergent needs of today's classroom while teaching 35 students. In fact, class size is the best indicator of student progress. The smaller the class, the better each student learns.
Leslie Hagan March 27, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Perhaps now would be a good time to tell parents where the two proposed locations are for a school and to explain why Council allowed Pulte to set aside only 3 acres for a school when the state standard for a school is 10 acres for a school of 400. That was the original agreement for space set aside for a school. Why was Pulte given back 7 acres that should have been used for the children of Potomac Yard?
McBrinn March 27, 2012 at 10:03 PM
If Pulte really did have 7 acres handed back to them why wasn't there a referendum? I can't think of one of my Rosemont or Del Ray neighbors who would have approved of such a plan. Everyone I have spoken to has begrudgingly accepted this development but only because we assumed it would bring much needed services (fire station) and at least a new school. If that's not the case, then we have all just been shafted. This next election can't come soon enough. City Council is trying to sell Alexandria part and parcel.

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