(Mr. Raymond, UDEA President, asked at the April 12th School Board meeting how many of our Kindergarten students will still be in the District in 3rd Grade, 5th Grade, etc)
President Gentile, members of the school board, district cabinet, administrators, educators, and members of the Upper Darby community. We come to you this evening with serious educational concerns regarding the proposed District Management Council’s elementary school schedule. While we agree that full day kindergarten is beneficial, we are still left to wonder at what cost.
We’re not here on opposite sides. On the contrary, we only want to continue the dialogue and try to find solutions to common problems while being advocates for our students, teachers and the Upper Darby community. Dr. Dunlap, Dr. McGarry, Mr. Nerelli, Mrs. Kelly and building principals have all been extremely helpful in this process and we appreciate being part of the conversations.
When DMC first published its study it clearly stated that elementary teachers have the most face-to-face teaching time of any level of teachers within the district. That being said we see no educational advantage presented either by the Educational Specifications Committee or the District Management Council supporting increasing elementary class sizes in order to support full day kindergarten. In the primary grades some argue that it is only an additional three children per classroom and represents only a small percentage increase of the entire class. Let’s see what that looks like in the real world of an Upper Darby elementary classroom.
For illustrative purposes we will say class size increases from 21 to 24 students. Statistically, let’s take a look at what the needs will likely be for these three additional students. In Upper Darby these three students are more likely to be economically disadvantaged. For some, English will be their second language. Others will need additional reading support. Some may need additional interventions including special education in order to optimize their potential. Incorporating special education students into the classroom creates an additional challenge while trying to optimize educational opportunities if sufficient supports are not part of the entire plan. The additional work required for just these three students now becomes exponential in nature. A small reading intervention group may go from six to eight students, representing an increased demand on services of about thirty-three percent in that one group. The services are still being provided but in a different capacity with less individual opportunity for one-to-one teacher/student instruction. Upper Darby has shown that small groups work. Increasing them seems counterproductive to the same previous arguments made to improve scores in the K-22 initiatives. Making any of these changes DMC is proposing is like saying my left arm is broken but I can fix it with a piece from my right arm. Yes, my left arm is now fixed but at the expense of my right arm.
The DMC has also suggested in some of the larger elementary schools a special’s schedule where they split specials’ classes and significantly increase the special teacher’s class size. Again for illustrative purposes we can take four classes of 24 students each. DMC suggests taking one of those classes and splitting it three ways for an additional eight students in the remaining three specials classes, raising the enrollment of those three remaining classes to 32 students. Then you take into consideration that the schedule they propose that has specials teachers teaching classes back to back. How are they supposed to set up, coordinate, and begin instruction in an overcrowded environment with zero preparation time between classes? How are they to manage supplies, instruments, and athletic equipment, while maintaining appropriate classroom management with a special that lasts for only thirty minutes?
Specials teachers teach valuable lessons within their area of expertise that transcend into the regular classroom. Physical education allows children the opportunity to learn how to work together, get some exercise, learn proper health habits, and accept winning and losing with appropriate responses. Music allows students to express themselves in non-traditional ways. The quiet student may relate to song and voice expression in a way that helps them overcome shyness within the classroom. Music contains math skills, speech and language development, and other critical measures that support learning. Art provides students with an opportunity to express themselves through a different medium than paper and pencil. It improves small motor skills, depth perception, geometry, and other mathematical principles relating to shapes. To increase the size of these classrooms is counterproductive to the educational benefits provided through each particular specialty.
In the DMC proposal, nowhere is library listed. Our children don’t have the resources to make weekly visits to their local library. Our library teachers provide additional reading supports across the many levels and genres. They supplement the regular education classroom as it relates to research and academic investigations. They coordinate instruction with the classroom teacher. They provide a valuable educational benefit to all our children.
The transiency rate in this district is substantial. How many of the students who start full day kindergarten actually will still be enrolled in the Upper Darby School District in third, fifth, seventh, ninth, and twelfth grade. One study conducted by a former Bywood lead teacher indicated by the end of fifth grade 45% of the student population has changed. We are creating a detrimental elementary schedule in favor of full time kindergarten. Due to transiency the benefit of full time kindergarten will have a diminishing return over time.
We know having students read on level by the end of second grade is statistically important. What percentage of those students will benefit when so many new students transfer into these primary grades after kindergarten? The supports might be better served at grade level with smaller class sizes, additional interventionists, and specials where teachers can teach in lieu of just managing the masses.
The District Management Council presents districts with opportunities to save money. They exist because districts can point to them and say, “DMC states it is supported by best practices.” District Management Council has not been to Mr. Raymond’s second grade classroom. They know nothing of the individual personalities, abilities, needs, and struggles of the children of my or any other elementary classroom in this district. For them to advocate what they say or do as best practices has not shown to be valid in the Upper Darby School District. It may have worked in other districts at other levels but in this case their proposed changes are not conducive to positive educational outcomes. DMC should be instructed to go back to the drawing board and create a schedule that supports what we do each and every day in every classroom that is inclusive of all our teachers and students for the betterment of this community. That is what you are paying them for.