My Turn: Juneau classes are too crowded

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004

I have recently been reminded that the Juneau School District has an active board policy that calls for lower numbers in class sizes. I would like to encourage you all to help do something about the current class size numbers, which are bulging, and request the Juneau School District's board do what is right.

The School Board's policy, adopted in 1984 and revised in 1996, sets per-teacher class goals at fewer than 20 students in kindergarten through second grade; fewer than 25 in grades three through five; and fewer than 30 in grades six through 12. It states: "It is recognized that this class size policy is contingent upon available resources. Further, certain classes held in larger class spaces or communal areas and gymnasia may accommodate additional students."

I assume you are as shocked as I was when I saw the numbers they publish and desire to uphold. I am sitting in amazement and disbelief that our classes in the Juneau School District are so high above the policy numbers. There are kindergarten classes of 28 (yes, Glacier Valley School has 28 children in a single-teacher kindergarten room) and the district responds to the cries for help with overcrowding with statements about "not really being overcrowded" and "children don't come in neat, even packages." When I look at this policy and consider the fact that our district just received $4.1 million in additional funds, I am appalled. Every kindergarten class has more than 20 children.

My youngest child, who is 3 years old, is with an amazing home day care provider who qualifies under Head Start guidelines. This means that she can't have more than six children under the age of 5 enrolled in her program. Why is it that state and federal guidelines keep these numbers so low (as research shows is absolutely necessary) and then three months later, districts put these same children (and other children) into kindergarten classes of between 22 and 28?

I know children don't come in neat, even packages. However, keeping all classes overenrolled according to their own policy seems outrageous and hypocritical, especially when our district has $4.1 million more than it had last year. I don't know of a single classroom, let alone a whole building, where these numbers that they publish in their policy are honored. Why is that? Shouldn't that be the No. 1 use of the new money?

I hope to have brought a little bit of an insight into the Juneau School District's operating habits. The district is not a poor one; it is a poorly managed one. If a business were to plan as poorly as they continually do, it would go bankrupt within the first year.

This is a travesty and unfortunate for our children and their education. Please talk to any and all School Board members. Call them, write - show that you are concerned about the number of children in classrooms. I believe that leaving teachers continually pushed beyond the maximum and leaving classes overcrowded is a guaranteed prescription for failure of the already ridiculous law of No Child Left Behind. Please make your voice heard with the current School Board, school administration and other parents.

• Semra Lee is a kindergarten teacher and a parent of three children in or bound for the Juneau School District.

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