Sears Elementary loses teacher; students lose

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

Three weeks into the school year.

Our grandson was excited on his first day of first grade. He was excited to be in Miss Fischer's class at Sears Elementary. He attended kindergarten there last year, while his brother attended first grade. Now it's his turn. We were excited because of the comfortable class size noted to be between 16 and 19 for his class. Other classes were in equally good student-teacher ratio shape.

These three weeks have been great. He's advanced tremendously in reading, and his writing is better each day. I stopped by just before lunch recess last week and watched the class experience a science experiment with Miss Fischer, learning how and why things float. I enjoyed walking with him at recess and meeting his friends and talking with the teachers.

Friday afternoon, we were told that due to low enrollment in kindergarten, Sears will lose a teacher. The domino effect of this is that our grandson loses his first-grade teacher too. Miss Fischer is being moved to teach the kindergarten class that, due to low enrollment, lost a teacher. And since this change took effect Monday, pick a class for your grandson. Three other classrooms will absorb Miss Fischer's class, bumping them to 25 or so students each.

So what that Miss Fischer's class has prospered educationally this first three weeks; so what that this new group of 6- and 7-year-old first graders went to school Monday and had to start over in a class they are unfamiliar with; so what that the teachers absorbing five or six students will have to reduce their one-on-one teaching and work on a few weeks of new student integration; so what that neither the students, their families, nor, apparently, the Sears staff had any choice in the matter. The district had decided.

Enrollment districtwide is up. Sears got lucky and ended up with what most people would consider an ideal student-teacher ratio. Their normally taxed but superb staff took advantage of that and poured more time into each student's educational experience in the classroom, and we have seen the benefit of that.

We can translate bureaucratic reasoning, though we remain skeptical of the budget benefit since the lost teacher moved to another school and the student count remains about the same in Sears. We'd even consider going out on a 10-foot wide limb an inch from the ground and wager that this move probably won't impact the $100 million bottom line that much this year. But it will have an impact on the kids, probably not all positive.

We see a rare opportunity to evaluate how these kids (who in good faith grew up to be 6 and were hopeful to experience their one and only first day of first grade) perform in an ideal class size. Let the situation be the district's lemonade from lemons.

Maybe these fortunate few will be the model for borough budget justifications for more teachers to reduce the ratio; maybe they will demonstrate that kids their age are not left behind when the ratio is better, even if this year is just a fiscal enrollment quirk.

This is likely the best opportunity in 30 years to show the district what it could be like. Then again, this opportunity could demonstrate that the difference between having 16 in a class is educationally no different than having 25 or 30, totally justifying future district decisions to disband classes with better student-teacher ratios, uproot them and plop them into three or four other classrooms. Back on that limb again, we would have to wager that it would not.

Ultimately for this year, the cost will remain the same to the district. Only those 16 kids were affected when they arrived at a new class Monday to learn a new pecking order that does not include as much access to their new teacher (who they met for the first time Monday); and their teacher who's transferred to kindergarten class; and the three or four other teachers absorbing her students; and the 60 to 80 kids in those other classes who had to scoot their desks over to the wall to make room for more; and the few kindergarten kids that had someone they don't know teaching them on Monday; and the teacher who left Sears; and the class who met her for the first time Monday morning; and the greater number of parent volunteers that will be needed for each class for a field trip; and ...

We only hope that in three weeks we are not wishing for the good old days of three weeks ago when our kids were doing so well in that nice Miss Fischer's class.

I have been fortunate to have spent over 20 years working with the staff of Sears Elementary, since way back when 20 was a crowded class. Though faces have changed, the high quality in the staff and administration has remained constant.

What better place could there possibly be to give the opportunity to evaluate this low student-teacher ratio and its benefit to their education? Keep these youngsters in awe of education, not baffled by administrative choices.

Scott and Gloria Walden


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