Class size rules, parent concerns heard by Fort Smith School Board

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 478 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools formed a committee last year in an effort to reduce class sizing. Those efforts were rewarded with class sizes being at a six-year low with the 2019-20 school year.

Class sizing is the process of transferring students out of their zoned school and moving them to another school in the district if the all their grade classes at their home school are at capacity. It is needed to keep classes within the state standards. The process also on occasion moves teachers to other schools.

The number of students transferred to a school out of their home zone because of class size in the first three days of school this year was 185, or 2.4%, down from last year’s 208 (2.7%) and 2017-18’s 215 (2.7%). The district peaked with a high of 323 students or 4.1% class sized in 2016-17, noted a presentation by Darian Layes, executive director of student services, at the FSPS Board of Education’s regularly scheduled board meeting Monday (Aug. 26).

“Over 97% of our students were not class sized this year. They were able to stay in their home school,” Layes said.

Concern was raised over the class sizing process last school year when parent Chris Adamson addressed school board members about one of his daughter’s being transferred out of her school zone. Adamson has three daughters. Last year, two of them where in grade school and both should have attended Euper Lane Elementary School.

“Last year my second daughter was class sized. I spoke on that because I moved to Fort Smith in 2016, and I chose the area to live in so they could go to school at Euper Lane because of its rank as a grade school. It was a very good school,” Adamson said.

After hearing board members concerns, FSPS administration formed a committee to look at the issue. That committee was made up of administrators, school principals, teachers and staff and parents, Layes said. The committee met three times during the last school year, and the district implemented six recommendations that came out of the committee.
• Use a time and date stamped receipt for registration
• Initiate new student registration through Power School starting April 2
• Require proof of residence for kindergarten through sixth-grade students, something district employees worked through the summer to achieve
• Limit out of district access to school experiencing over enrollment
• Work to ensure data was accurate at the end of the previous school year
• Sent out a standardized letter to parents in the spring to inform on the possibility of class sizing so as to avoid any surprises

“This is kind of a tight rope that you walk because you want to be as efficient as you can and use your teaching staff. Yet you don’t want to class size kids. It’s an ongoing battle to try to reduce the number of kids class sized but not over staff the district if we can keep from it,” Layes said.

Once it was determined which schools had room to add students in classes where parents had requested a transfer, school personnel met with parents to see what could be negotiated, Layes said.

“This year we met with 100 families on Friday, the fourth day, … and were able to move 83 of the students requesting at transfer to where they wanted to go,” Layes said.

Students who could not be transferred that day were put on a wait list. Some have been transferred to the school of their choice since, Layes said.

“We do not allow any attendance area exceptions into any grade at a school that experienced class sizing,” he said.

Though there were still some students who had to be moved this year because of class size, the changes recommended by the committee did make a difference, Layes said. Adamson said though he knows the changes did not address every concern of every parent, it was good to see change brought about by concerned parents.

“I got involved because I think it’s important that parents be involved. … We were able to make some recommendation that I think will be helpful,” Adamson said. “I hope more parents, if they see issues, will speak up. The only way you’re going to make a change is by getting involved.”

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