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Some Kennedy Elementary classes are “bursting at the seams”

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Faced with increasing class sizes and too few teachers to handle the load, Principal Susan A. Jacobs asked the Ogdensburg City School Board of Education Tuesday to consider hiring more teachers at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, 809 Park St.

Since 2007, the district’s budgetary pressures have resulted in the elimination of seven elementary classroom teachers through attrition, Mrs. Jacobs said.

“The elementary administrators and, more importantly, the teachers have done a good job managing their classes under the reduced sections,” she said. “But we are at the point where we can no longer handle fifth grade.”

Eighty students are expected to enter fifth grade next year, leaving at least 24 students for each of the grade’s three teachers.

Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said that elementary classes, on average, should have at most 18 students.

“You have to remember we also get transfer students throughout the year, and if we start out with 27 to 29 students, you could end up with 32 children in one class by the end of October,” said Kevin Kendall, director of curriculum instruction and assessment.

Mrs. Jacobs said she would like to see at least one more teacher added next year, but more may need to be added in the future. Kennedy has already absorbed students from Sherman Elementary School, which closed in June. Lincoln Elementary School will close at the end of this year, and its students will also be transferred to Kennedy.

“At the primary level, ideally, less than 20 students is perfect,” Mrs. Jacobs said. “When it comes to emerging readers, you want to be able to give all of them the necessary attention.”

Another concern for administrators is maximum classroom capacity in special areas, such as the gym, computer labs, art and music rooms. Teachers do not have enough supplies or work areas to cope with more students. With 25 students in each, Mrs. Jacobs said, the art classroom and computer labs are “bursting at the seams.”

“That’s how we ended up with a domino effect and an increase in our transportation department,” Mrs. Jacobs said. “We took in 20 students last year during the summertime at various grade levels. But, unfortunately we had to tell [parents and guardians] some sections were closed since there was no more room at Madill Elementary. So if they lived on this end of town, we provided the option of transportation to Madill.”

School Board President Ronald N. Johnson agreed with Mrs. Jacobs, and said that adding an additional elementary teacher will be considered in 2014-2015 budget talks.

He said while class sizes were seeing a decline for a number of years, they are starting to stabilize or increase in some grade levels.

“Personally, I put a lot of stock in her recommendation for class sizes,” Mr. Johnson said. “If we have to go broke in this district, let’s go broke on the backs of a quality education. I’d rather go out doing a good job of educating our students.”

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