Justin McAlexander works on a project in his classroom at Craig Middle School last year. CMS classes average 21 students per room, well below the target size of 30.

File photo

Justin McAlexander works on a project in his classroom at Craig Middle School last year. CMS classes average 21 students per room, well below the target size of 30.

Middle and high school class sizes on target

1 out of 120 sections exceeds limit

Every school day, Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School faculty teach about 120 sections of math, science, English and social studies, or what educators refer to as core classes.

Out of those classes, only one, a high school English class, exceeds the district target class size of 30 students per class.

Grades six through 12 have an average of 21 students per class, which is well below the target size.

The Moffat County School Board is responsible for regulating class sizes for all kindergarten through 12th-grade classes.

Assistant superintendent Christine Villard said it is important for the School Board and administrative team to set and maintain these goals.

"We try to set realistic and reasonable targets," Villard said. "And the board consistently supports that."

She said, in her experience, Moffat County is unique in its student-to-teacher ratio and that she was encouraged by the class sizes at the middle and high school.

At the elementary level, kindergarten through fifth grades average 22 students per classroom. However, about one-third of the classrooms exceed the limit, which is 25.

Still, high school Principal Thom Schnellinger said he is pleased with class sizes throughout the district.

He said he has seen other rural communities with more than 40 students per classroom.

MCHS currently averages 22 students in its math, science, social studies and English classes.

"We really, really try to keep them under 30," Schnellinger said. "Once a class gets that big, it's difficult work. It becomes more of an issue of classroom management instead of a pedagogical teaching situation."

As a former art teacher, Schnellinger knows it can be a chore to control a classroom full of teenagers.

"It is just about individualizing and having the time to spend on each child," he said. "As the classes get bigger, you're more focused on controlling the masses, and we don't want to swap management for education."

In his ideal world, classes wouldn't be any larger than 17, but he knows it is difficult to make everyone happy with the balancing act between managing funds and providing education.

"We really do spend a lot of time balancing, re-balancing and working at it over again until we get some semblance of a best fit," he said. "It's by no means perfect. The bottom line is the state of Colorado only gives us so much money to operate with."

Currently, Moffat County receives less than $7,000 per student, which is one of the lowest per-pupil allocations in the state.

Some districts on the Front Range receive more than $13,000 per student.

With declining enrollment at the high school, Schnellinger said three teacher positions and three paraprofessionals were eliminated for the 2009-10 school year.

"It's all about finding that right place where we're getting as much as we can for the money, and educating as many kids as we possibly can," he said. "And that's something that every school struggles with on a daily basis."

He said he was proud of the way resources were utilized, including using paraprofessionals to help with structured study halls and crucial lessons like math and literacy.

"We met the target the district has asked us," he said. "I'd love to see the state granting us more money per student to give us more opportunities, but I think the district has done a good job with what we have."

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com

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