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.