Glacier Valley Elementary School’s site council signaled support Monday evening for a staff recommendation that a new teacher be hired.
Glacier Valley, which has the largest student body of the Juneau School District’s six elementary schools, has been dealing with large class sizes this year in its intermediate grades — third grade through fifth grade — including a fifth-grade class of 30 students and a blended fourth- and fifth-grade class of 31.
Principal Ted Wilson said that after hearing from staff, he decided it would be best for a new teacher to be hired to form another blended fourth- and fifth grade class in order to alleviate the school’s high pupil-to-teacher ratio in intermediate grades.
“I was more looking at the intervention (specialist), because we have such a need for that,” said Wilson, referring to an alternative option to add someone to go from classroom to classroom specifically to help children in need of special assistance. “But the classroom teachers, where I heard a lot from staff, and from parents who knew that this was on the table, were also saying they would rather have lower class sizes.”
The parents attending the meeting agreed with the recommendation.
“I like the idea of another teacher,” said Vaughn Hammond.
Harborview Elementary School, parents and staff at which have been vocal in calling for additional staffing, could also receive an additional teacher. Its site council voted last Thursday to support school staff’s recommendation for a new teacher to lead a blended kindergarten and first-grade class (http://bit.ly/YNmjYe).
The JSD Board of Education will hold a special meeting Wednesday at the JSD Central Office, where Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich will present the recommendations of Glacier Valley and Harborview principals to the board, according to Kristin Bartlett, district administration’s chief of staff.
The JSD administration’s about-face on the staffing situation has been brought on by an unexpected increase in the funding the district is getting this the school year.
Some 94 intensive special needs students have been identified in the school district this year, one less than the 95 predicted in the budget adopted in the spring — which already built in funding for special education — but five more than the 89 estimated earlier this fall.
The district receives 13 times the regular Base Student Allocation of $5,680 per intensive needs student.
In an email Monday afternoon, Bartlett said the intensive needs funding is not being taken from what the district has budgeted for special education.
“There are many students who have special needs in our district,” Bartlett wrote. “It is the responsibility of the district to plan for and meet those needs on an individual basis each school year. The plans that are put in place are not contingent upon funding, they are based on what each individual student needs.”
Overall student enrollment was also higher than expected in the district’s October count, also providing a boost to the JSD’s funding.
“Prior to the count, the district thought they would not have additional funding,” Wilson said at the meeting.
Wilson cautioned that a new classroom would likely not be able to form until after winter break due to the school’s limited classroom space, though he suggested that a new teacher could visit classrooms and get to know students in the weeks before break.
The contract for a new teacher, Wilson said, would only be for the current school year. After that, the Juneau School District will have to determine based on projected enrollment figures whether an additional teaching position should be made permanent at Glacier Valley.
“The way I feel about it is with our population trajectory right now is we’ll probably earn a teacher again next year,” said Wilson.
Glacier Valley already has two blended fourth- and fifth-grade classes, with the aim of allowing students to have class with the same teacher and many of the same classmates for two years in a row — a practice known as “looping” that all present, including school board member Barbara Thurston, said they like.
But Wilson said students placed into a new blended class may not get that opportunity.
“The thing that I won’t be able to guarantee with that four/five is that they’ll still exist next year,” Wilson said.
Hammond replied, “I think parents will be very reasonable with that, I would expect.”
“People will be happy that the classes are getting smaller,” said Thurston. “They’ll be willing to take some hardships in exchange for the benefits.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.