My Turn: Harborview Elementary needs another teacher

Parents seek equity, not special treatment

As outgoing and incoming Facilitators of Harborview Site Council, we joined other parents and council members last Tuesday evening in expressing our concern to the school board over the high Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) at our school. In this effort, we were backed by more than 100 parents who had signed petitions asking for the board’s attention to this problem. Though we appreciate the board’s willingness to consider our request for an additional teacher in the primary grades (K-2), we are disappointed that its members chose not to take immediate action to correct a problem that by any reasonable interpretation should have been addressed at the beginning of the academic year.

In developing its final budget last year, the Juneau School District placed high value on maintaining an average of 22 students per teacher in the primary grades. With a current PTR of 25, however, Harborview Elementary significantly exceeds the district’s own PTR target. At the moment, Harborview has seven teachers at the primary grades serving 175 students. Auke Bay, by comparison, has eight teachers serving 172 students. This is not equitable, and the effects of this high PTR are visible to anyone who cares to notice. At the moment, four of our primary-grade classrooms have 26 students each. Aside from Mendenhall River (with two classrooms at 26) no other elementary school in Juneau has such high numbers in any of its elementary classrooms.

Harborview School is a unique place, educating over 400 students on a daily basis. Our school enjoys a diverse population with a complex array of needs that are compromised by a shortage of classroom teachers. We host the Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy program (TCLL); we have a preschool; we have the highest special education caseload in the district with 64 students (16 percent of our student body); and we have the highest population of English Language Learners (ELL) in the district, with 78 students (almost 20 percent of our student body). By maintaining overcrowded primary-grade classrooms, the school board and Juneau School District are only compounding the challenges we already face. Unacceptable as the current PTR may be, however, the ratio will likely worsen in the coming months. In each of the past three years, Harborview enrollments have increased during the late fall and early winter — in 2009-2010, for example, Harborview absorbed an additional 17 students.

We were not asking the board and the district for special treatment, but rather the equitable application of their own plainly stated PTR target. Neither were we asking that the board dip into its reserve fund; instead we were hoping the board might choose to examine the current budget and identify possible sources of revenue that might be reallocated to support the hiring of a new teacher. We support and applaud the action of the Board of Education at their September meeting, when Riverbend Elementary was awarded an additional teacher based on the same PTR targets to which we are appealing. When Riverbend received a new teacher, its PTR calculation demonstrated a need for 0.77 additional teachers. At the same time, Harborview’s PTR demonstrated a need for one full additional teacher. What was done for Riverbend was justified. Doing nothing for Harborview in virtually the same situation — or worse — is not.

The Annual Parent Survey shows that parents are generally confident in the district. Elementary parents express the most confidence. By refusing to offer relief to Harborview, however, the board has cast doubt upon its commitment to equity, and it has walked away from honoring its PTR targets. We ask the school board and Juneau School District to earn our confidence once again by taking action to treat our K-2 students more equitably across the system and ensure that more students start their formal schooling with the most support we can provide to them.

• Holst was the Harborview Site Council facilitator during 2011-2012. David Noon is the Harborview Site Council facilitator for 2012-2013.

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