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Schools keep eye on class sizes
Officials say flexibility is needed as numbers tick higher
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With tight budgets and student numbers slowly ticking upward, classroom sizes have increased incrementally over the years.

Both Hall County and Gainesville school systems have had increases, though Gainesville has not increased class size since 2010.

“It depends upon the grade and the school,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “With the schools of choice, we’re able to assign and allocate teachers before the school year starts and keep the class size to our range, to what our goals are. After the choice is over, when (new) students register, they’re assigned to the school of their transportation zone.”

Dyer said Fair Street and Gainesville elementary schools are more likely to experience an increase in class sizes, particularly in kindergarten.

Gainesville does not need to adhere to state maximum class sizes. The maximum numbers are waived by the state as long as the school board adopts an annual resolution on the matter and has it approved by the state.

That exemption has been in place since 2010.

“The whole point of this is to realize that, with the economic downturn, systems need flexibility (to determine class sizes),” said KevinBales, a middle grades school improvement specialist for Hall. The state does provide recommendations for maximum class sizes, and also retains the authority to strike down any proposed class size.

Hall has taken advantage of that waiver process since it was implemented, and it has always been approved. The maximum kindergarten class size ranges from 20 to 25.

Classrooms with a higher number of students most likely have a full-time paraprofessional as well. The recommended class sizes from the state range from 18 to 20 students.

Normal kindergarten class sizes in Gainesville are 20 to 23 students.

“It has not been unusual for us to have classes of 24 to 25, particularly at Fair Street and Gainesville elementary,” Dyer said.

Maximum class size numbers increase with grade levels, but are difficult to predict. In Gainesville, elementary and middle grade levels can be difficult to determine as their student body is increasingly mobile, Dyer said. She gave the example of a classroom beginning the school year with 25 students, coming back in January with 19 students, and then increasing in numbers again throughout the spring.

Hall’s maximum numbers range from 25 to 35, with grades first through third on the low end of that spectrum.

Gainesville high school classes are sized by enrollment, though the school system tries to keep it in the mid-20s. Some classes have been as low as 18, Dyer said, and some have been in the upper 20s. Two classes last year went over 30 students.

Dyer said that the system tries to get all students into a course. She gave an example of a high school junior who wanted to take a senior-level class.

“We try to get them in there,” she said. “We’ve had some big classes as a result.”

Hall high schools have a maximum class size of 35, though not all reach that number.

While Dyer said that Gainesville saw most of the increases in lower grade levels, Hall County is seeing it in all grades.

“I would say the range is anywhere from two to six more children in the classroom (since the recession),” said Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield.

“It’s universal, across the board,” he added. “You just can’t take 120 teachers out of the mix, add 1,200 kids and not have more kids in the classroom.”

The state does not keep track of the average class size in Georgia.

The school systems agree that teacher efficacy is what’s key.

“Is it easier to accomplish such a feat with 20 students as opposed to 30 students?” Bales said. “I believe so.

“Nonetheless, the priority remains to place the most highly effective and engaging teachers in front of our students,” he added.

Dyer said an increasing use of technology helps teachers with larger classrooms, as well as increasing professional learning.

“It really does boil down to, ‘Is the teacher good?’ and ‘Can the teacher handle this number?’” she said. “You’re always looking for those skills.”