Sunset Elementary School first-graders make their way to gym class Thursday. About one-third of Moffat County elementary school classrooms are larger than the target size. For the larger classes, extra paraprofessionals are added during critical lessons.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Sunset Elementary School first-graders make their way to gym class Thursday. About one-third of Moffat County elementary school classrooms are larger than the target size. For the larger classes, extra paraprofessionals are added during critical lessons.

Most elementary classes at target size

Literacy a focus in larger-than-normal classes

There are 27 desks in David Gaines' fifth-grade classroom at Sandrock Elementary School. He said the room might be a little full, but he still finds his class manageable.

"It's wall-to-wall kids," he said with a smile, gesturing at the room behind him, which was empty while his students were at lunch. "It's more to juggle because you have so many diverse learners. But when it's lesson time, we always have someone in here helping with all of the different needs."

Gaines' class is two students more than the optimal class size for third through fifth grades, which is between 23 and 25 per class.

For kindergarten through second grades, the target class size is 18 to 21 students per class.

In the Moffat County School District, 16 out of 54 classes, or about 30 percent, at the four elementary schools are above the target class size.

Of those classes, two-thirds are at Sandrock Elementary.

Although one in three classes is larger than the target by an average of 1.6 students, administrative teams have found ways to keep up with the diverse classroom needs.

During reading, math or science lessons, there almost always is a paraprofessional in the room to help with behavioral interventions and to encourage students of any level, especially in literacy lessons.

"We have an excellent class ratio right now," Assistant Superintendent Christine Villard said. "We're right on target, I think. If the ratios do get over what we'd like, then we make the decision to provide additional support."

At Ridgeview Elementary School, Principal Julie Baker's concern is the size of her kindergarten classes in the first year after school reconfiguration.

Both sections have 23 students, a manageable number, she said, but not ideal.

"If I could pick one grade level to be a little heavy at, it wouldn't be kindergarten," she said.

But, in response, Ridgeview has found ways to problem solve by reallocating resources and providing extra paraprofessionals during vital lessons such as reading.

Paraprofessionals and aids can help with the needs of the student in a classroom with a few extra children, Baker said, and so far they have succeeded.

"Literacy is the most important," she said. "We really want them to lay the groundwork for being good readers. And our fifth grade is pretty doggone strong. We have very few children reading below grade level there."

At the second-grade level, the two classes have 18 and 19 students in them, respectively, numbers that Baker says are indicative of a change.

"With the exception of kindergarten, it is much better than last year," she said. "Before, every grade level was at or above capacity."

At East Elementary School, Principal Diana Cook said things were "amazingly different" at her school after reconfiguration, which left East with about 250 students, down from 370 last year.

While class sizes at East are mostly smaller, the second-grade sections are two to three students more than the target class size.

In those instances, Cook also sees value in having paraprofessionals help with diverse student needs during vital lessons.

"We have such a supportive administration and School Board," she said. "They have allowed me to hire an extra person to come in for the literacy blocks. It's so important. You can do a lot of things in life but if you can't read, you're going to have a hard time."

Enrollment still is fluid early in the year as new students move in and some are taken out, so there still is a possibility that Gaines may end up with a smaller class.

Still, Gaines and other teachers find ways to help students, even if they are one of the classes with a couple more students than the district would like.

"I try to make it feel like a big family," Gaines said. "Sometimes we succeed together; sometimes we fail together. But the more there are, the more unique individuals there are, and it's good to see that."

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