By Gail Callahan
In an emotional and at times contentious meeting, the Shelburne Community School Board met with and listened to concerns from roughly two-dozen fourth-grade parents about the burgeoning enrollment in the three classrooms.
During the nearly hour-long exchange, several parents told Board members about their concerns and their children’s worries about overcrowded conditions in the three rooms. Parents generally characterized their students’ fears about academic progress and lack of sufficient physical space.
Currently, enrollment in each of the three fourth-grade classrooms stands at 26 students. Parents also expressed concern, citing conversations with school personnel that similar enrollment numbers in fifth grade were unacceptable. Parents welcomed the hiring of additional para educators for fourth grade, while others supported the idea of hiring another fourth grade teacher.
Parents said many became aware of the high fourth grade enrollment numbers during the school’s Open House. Many described the event as “chaotic,” and noted that 11 students crammed around a table isn’t conducive to quality education. In fact, student numbers in fourth grade are up 44 percent from last year’s figures. Parents noted that student enrollment is “kept very, very quiet.”
Toward the end of the enrollment portion, parents called on the Board to set a date for a meeting that included School Directors, school personnel, and teachers to find a solution. Caffry repeatedly told parents at the meeting that the Board wasn’t in the position at that time to tell those gathered a specific date, but promised school directors would confirm a time for a gathering no later than Sept. 21. A forum is slated for tonight, Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6:30 pm at the Shelburne Community School.
Four parents participated in the presentation. All of the fathers and mothers thanked the Board for their service and dedication to the community. Additionally, each parent requested that school personnel work to “find a solution” to the high enrollment numbers in fourth grade.
Annmarie Curley, who told the Board she has three children enrolled in the Community School, pointed out she and her family moved to Shelburne form New York, citing the excellence of the Shelburne school. She went onto note that families are “welcomed into the school and the community” on a regular basis.
“We feel involved in our children’s education and in the life of the Shelburne community,” she said.
Citing state education standards, Curley said a class size of 18 students is more conducive to quality education in the classroom, pointing out that teachers generally are supportive of those type of student numbers. Parents also asked why if the school felt 25 fifth graders in a classroom wasn’t acceptable, then why is it alright for each fourth grade room to have 26 pupils?
Fourth grade parent Chris Berger also acknowledged that the school year is nearly a month old, and called on school personnel and Board members to seek a solution to the high enrollment soon, noting waiting another month would likely be unacceptable and problematic.
“We’re very, very concerned and it’s already mid-September,” said Curley. “We don’t want to be here in mid-October.”
For his part, Caffry told parents gathered at the meeting that there was a breakdown in communication about the issue. Parents at the meeting said they sent emails and letters to school personnel about the matter. Curley said 75 percent of fourth-grade parents signed a petition, calling on the school to reduce the high enrollment in each classroom. Caffry also noted that for the most part, Board members don’t have an extensive background in education, preferring to hear from the Community School’s administration about the environment in the fourth grade classrooms. He also put the brakes on discussions about the hiring of another teacher at this point.
On the heels of the fourth grade enrollment question, Principal Allan Miller told the Board that the Community School saw 21 new students register in the weeks before the opening of school.
Additionally, several new para educators were hired to assist in classrooms, many set to help students’ unique educational needs, he said.