Columbia school transfers contribute to large class sizes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:51 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 26, 2009

COLUMBIA — Two Mile Prairie Elementary School started classes Monday with three grade levels hitting — or exceeding — class size limits set by Columbia Public Schools because of student transfers and budget reduction. 

Two Mile Prairie is one of five elementary schools that met yearly proficiency goals measured by standardized testing required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Twenty-four schools in the Columbia Public School District did not meet the yearly goal. Only six of those incurred federal sanctions because of their Title I status, a designation that is given to schools that receive federal money because they have a high percentage of disadvantaged students. Parents of students in the six schools may transfer their children to either Fairview, Midway, New Haven, Two Mile Prairie or Ridgeway elementary schools. The school district must use some of its Title I money to make the transfers for any parent requesting one.

Parents have until Friday to apply for a transfer, but earlier applications have been processed. On Monday morning, Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, estimated he has transferred 75 to 80 students and at least 25 applications are pending.

Two Mile Prairie is the only school to reach its class-size limits so far. Columbia bases its limits on the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education's guidelines, which advise a maximum of 25 students per class for primary grades, 27 for third and fourth grades and 30 for fifth grade. Two Mile Prairie, however, has a second grade with one class of 27 and one of 26, and a fourth grade with one class of 29 and one of 28, Principal Larry Jones said. The kindergarten class had 51 students, but one student left, so the classes are split at exactly the maximum. 

Jones doesn't blame the large numbers entirely on the Title I transfers. He noted that the school had to reduce teachers from 14 to 13 because of budget concerns. Also, Two Mile Prairie has exceeded class size before, in years with fewer Title I transfers.

"Ironically, during the last two years, we have opened a new kindergarten or first grade class the week before school started because of the enrollment fluctuating," Jones said.

A Title I transfer may not be denied because of reaching a school or school district's capacity, according to a statement from the school district. After the application deadline has passed, the school district will look at how to place the rest of the transfers, including students changing schools unrelated to the sanctioned schools, Jensen said.

On Monday, the first day of classes, the school district sent three instructional aides who are certified teachers to Two Mile Prairie. The aides helped the kindergarten students, many of whom haven't been in a formal school environment before, adjust to a new school, Jones said. He said the school is "doing a wait-and-see" until the application deadline has passed to determine if it will need more help from the district, since the enrollment numbers have changed frequently from week to week.

"I think (the new students) would have an impact. But, that is also about the question of getting more support," Jones said. "I think any time you have real large class sizes, it affects how students get individual attention."

Ridgeway, another school accepting transfers, is a magnet school with instruction highly tailored to each student, and students must apply to go there. The Title I transfers will enroll first, Jensen said. A meeting related to how Ridgeway is affected by this will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Ridgeway, 107 E. Sexton Road.

According to the district statement, when placing the students, parent preference is considered, but other factors such as class size, bus routes and travel times weigh in as well, with the school district making the final decision.

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Derrick Fogle August 25, 2009 | 9:49 a.m.

Wow, this is really going to stress the accepting schools, especially considering many of them have just been hit with staff cuts! My condolences to everyone caught up in this insanity.

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