Fairfield elementary school class size protocol to remain intact
FAIRFIELD — Parents, teachers and community members came out strongly Tuesday night to advocate for class size guidelines to remain as is — capping the desirable elementary school class size at 23 for kindergarten to grade two and at 25 for grades three to five, and they got their way.
The Board of Education discussed what to do about late summer and early fall enrollments that might bring a single section one student over the maximum desirable class size as described in school board guidelines. Whether to add a teacher or not arose during budget discussions, but board members concurred mostly with the community and chose to stick with strict 23 and 25 caps.
Superintendent Toni Jones wrote in a community note ahead of the discussion the dialogue arose because the district is “facing large budget challenges” and that a slight shift could save “$300,000 to $500,000+” in a single school year.
Among a stream of parents, teachers and other community members who spoke against loosening the guidelines, one elementary school teacher and town resident called class size “everything” for students and teachers and said larger classes would make “all the difference in the world.”
Elaine Casale, Dwight Elementary School teacher and Fairfield parent, said children do well in smaller classes. Fairfield Education Association President Bob Smoler, a high school teacher, called elementary class sizes over 23 or 25 “beyond the pale,” but said he was glad the community was having a dialogue on class size despite his belief it is not the way to save costs.
Jones explained the discussion as a talk about what is desirable given the economic climate.
Most school board members agreed with the community that guidelines should be followed so a single class of 26 for grades three to five or 24 for kindergarten to grade two at an elementary school would trigger a new section at that grade level. Several members voiced strong opposition to larger classes.
“It’s just not the same,” Board of Education Secretary Jessica Gerber said of larger classes. She said even with a difficult budget situation, “I would rather look at other things. This is a major decision to have.”
Vice Chairwoman Trisha Pytko, a teacher, agreed. She said, “I cannot support adding more students past the 25, past the 23.”
Some members expressed a single larger class might be acceptable if it could help save an academic program amid difficult budget choices or that they would simply like to allow Jones to use her best judgment come late summer and fall, though they would encourage strict adherence.
“We have our direction. It’s very clear,” Jones said, sensing the board’s tilt toward continuing its class size practice.