With the school year kicked off, some schools are struggling to find space for students in classrooms, including one school in Redwood City.
Teachers at Hawes Elementary School became concerned about what they believe is an antiquated system for setting up classes when there wasn’t enough space for all kindergartners to start with a permanent teacher. One class of 32 opened up with a substitute teacher, which ultimately ended up beginning with 17 students and has dwindled down to six students since students have been moved to classrooms with openings. Teachers said they were first told a class of 45 kindergartners for the first 10 days of school would be opened up.
“This year kindergarten is overflowing,” said Hawes kindergarten teacher Roxanne Dragan at an Aug. 20 meeting of the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees. “We have to support stuffing until Sept. 8. How does that market the school? You must be satisfied with interim 10-day placement until the numbers can be adjusted at a choice school? Imagine you’re the 5-year-old? You are looking forward to making new friends, in reality, you’re in crowded classroom with 44 other students.”
The state mandated class size is 31 students, but the numbers can be over for the first 10 days of school. School began Aug. 25.
The reason for the complications is the fact the district has a large amount of student choice for schools, said Naomi Hunter, director of communications for the Redwood City Elementary School District. Five district schools in the district don’t have any neighborhood boundaries and families can apply to go to a different school than their neighborhood one. There’s also the fact that some families don’t register until the last minute and people move into the district right before school starts, she noted.
“We don’t know until school actually starts who is going to show up,” she said. “The first few days of school, we’re doing a lot of monitoring. … Kids don’t come in perfect packages of 30. It’s a lot of math. Our first priority is always the kids; we want them to be placed in the best possible place as early as possible.”
The district is in the process of switching over to an electronic system, called InfoSnap, for its Schools of Choice registration. Standard registration already does go through InfoSnap. It was all paper until about two years ago, Hunter said.
“It allows us to track demand for certain schools to help us with some of these issues that occur,” she said. “We will be taking a look at our overall systems. We are trying to identify where some of the problems are. It’s not going to change the fluctuations in any given year and you can’t put a student in a place you don’t have a chair for them. It will give us better ideas about stats and trends and it will streamline things too for us so we have more time — it will make the whole system more efficient.”
‘Glitch in the system’
The district would never put 45 students in a classroom, said John Baker, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
“There was a glitch in the system somewhere,” Baker said. “Naomi (Hunter) has brought it to forefront that we need to fix the Schools of Choice process, so we can straighten this out before registration in November. There’s a disconnect between online and paper; they’re not matching up between what school sites have.”
Student registration happens in January and February, while the school of choice registration is in November. Every student who lives in the district is guaranteed a seat somewhere, Hunter said.
Since Hawes is a small school, this has happened before, Hunter said. There could be issues in the future, so this should be sorted out soon, said Hawes kindergarten teacher Julietta Efigenio, who has taught kindergarten at Hawes for 16 years. The problem started 10-15 years ago, but the district quickly solved the problem then.
“We kept enrolling double as many students that would fit in kindergarten every year,” she said. “So for each grade level as it moved up, it would be a problem. Basically, Hawes doesn’t have room for another classroom. … For about 10 years it was smooth. We would get a few extra kids, but suddenly this year the problem has cropped up again.”
Efigenio notes that she loves the district and it’s much better at serving students than any charter school ever would do, but it needs to fix the problem with registration.
“Even with this clever solution (the substitute teacher), 32 families will be bonding with a teacher that’s not their own,” Efigenio said separately at the board meeting. “They registered their children long ago, is this any way to reward their preparation? They’re holding tanks as classrooms. Is that the reputation our district wants to earn? In kindergarten, if you don’t have everything prepared for them, some kids are going to cry; you need to have it nice and kind of a smooth transition for them.”
This problem goes back to another issue, she said. Hawes was supposed to be redistricted during a year-long process, redoing the boundaries so the school would have the right number of families, she said.
“I thought, ‘wow, we had already solved this problem,’” she said.
The district is going to be looking into what happened and how to make the process better, said Hawes Principal Antonio Pérez, who is in fifth year as principal at the school. Things are going smoothly for the students with the substitute teacher so far, he said.
“We’re going to communicate that to our teachers and staff and give more of a clear understanding for everyone involved. We have a large number of students wanting to attend the school and it changes every year. … We always try to do our best and place them in a timely manner.”
Changing school boundaries is still on the table, said Hunter. During the 2011-12 school year, a Grade Configuration, Enrollment and Program Choice Committee was formed and met throughout the year to analyze several issues affecting the district at that time including overcrowding at some schools. The possibility of forming a committee to examine Hawes boundaries was one of many recommendations that came from that committee. The district has implemented many of the committee’s recommendations, including expanding Roosevelt to a K-8 school, moving up the Schools of Choice application period and notification timeline and adding a dual-language Spanish immersion program at Selby Lane. A committee to specifically address the Hawes boundary has yet to be formed though.
“That may occur in the future,” Hunter said. “First, we need to determine if we still have a space shortage at Hawes. We have seen an enrollment drop at some schools this year, including Hawes, that appears to be related to families being priced out of living in this region.”
Further, aside from streamlining the system so all registration is online, the district plans on educating parents and staff about how registration works, said Hunter.
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