Four Alachua County public schools are not meeting state class-size requirements
Stephen Stanquist sits down each evening with his fifth grade daughter to do their respective homework at a cardboard table in their living room. The Oak View Middle School teacher said his homework load has increased as class sizes get larger.
Stanquist said he’s had to adjust how to manage his time with grading more assignments at home, as Oak View Middle is one of four Alachua County public schools that exceed Florida’s core class-size requirements. The other affected schools are Howard Bishop Middle, Mebane Middle and Buchholz High.
“Given the past two years with COVID-19, I’m willing to give everybody a lot of grace,” Stanquist said.
Yet, he said he’ll have a problem if larger class sizes become a recurring issue.
The Florida Constitution states that the class-size maximum for classes per teacher at public schools for fourth through eighth grade is 22 students, and the maximum for ninth through 12th grade is 25 students. The class-size amendment only applies to core courses, according to the state education department.
The core class-size average is 22.4 for Howard Bishop Middle, 25.5 for Mebane Middle, 22.18 for Oak View Middle and 26.33 for Buchholz High, according to the district’s 2021-22 class-size reduction compliance plan.
Each district not in compliance with the requirements must complete and submit a compliance plan detailing the specific actions it plans to take to meet the class-size requirements by the following school year, according to the state education department.
Kim Neal, the director of the district’s FTE/State Reporting and Office of Student Assignment, said the plan was submitted on Jan. 28. The FTE and State Reporting Office of the district reports student membership to the state education department for state funding, according to the district website. FTE, which is short for Full Time Equivalent, is the unit of measure that stands for “one student in membership and in attendance for 180 school days,” the website states.
“As the school grew, the class sizes got larger,” Neal said.
Some actions the compliance plan lists as potential solutions include reviewing course offerings, reducing elective course offerings, adjusting teacher course loads and encouraging students to take courses virtually.
The county’s district curriculum director Kevin Berry said families concerned about class sizes can reach out to school administration to see if this is a temporary situation or something that a school plans to continue with for a longer period.
Berry said there could be consequences for the district, as the state could take back some funding due to the averages not meeting the state expectations.
A calculation to reduce the class-size allocation of a district must be made when it is not meeting the state’s requirements, and funding can be moved to districts that meet the requirements, according to the state education department.
“We really do make a concerted effort to ensure that we are meeting that expectation,” Berry said. “When we’re not, we take corrective action as soon as we can.”
Analyzing and adopting responses of other schools that have dealt with this is another option the district is looking into for other possible solutions, he said.
Oak View Middle Principal Kelly Armstrong said he attributes his school’s higher class-size average to people moving to the area.
“You can have a plan, and more kids come up, and we’re going to serve those kids,” Armstrong said. “Ideally, and I look forward to next year, us getting back to that really close to that 22, you know, and being there for them that way.”
The Alachua County Education Association, a union that represents instructional employees and education support professionals in the county, approves of the state’s core class-size limits, said union President Carmen Ward. Ward said the union believes the best learning happens when classes have fewer students. She said a labor crisis is causing bigger class sizes.
“We’ve never been as bad as we are right now as far as staff shortages,” Ward said.
She said people should know teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.
“Those go hand in hand,” Ward said. “We have a saying that whatever is good for teachers is good for students.”
Howard Bishop Middle Principal Michael Gamble said he is looking for a change in staffing to help meet the state requirements.
“The short answer is to hire some more teachers,” Gamble said. “What we really need to pay attention to is the long-term impact of this and the stress that we’re putting on teachers and schools.”