The Menahga School Board reviewed class sizes and section numbers for the 2020-21 school year.
Board member Brad Goehrig offered a compromise, proposing four sections for kindergarten through third grade and three sections for fourth through ninth grade. Based on current enrollment and the 88-student cap per grade, this means fourth through ninth grade will have between 26 and 30 students per section.
The motion passed 3-2, with board members Julia Kicker and Katie Howard opposed.
During the public comment period, Stephanie Kramer, a middle school social studies teacher, expressed her concern about class sizes.
“We are kind of maxing out in the seventh and eighth grade,” she said, noting that the 10th grade was divided into four sections because it was too big. “This year’s sixth grade is just one kid away from that.”
Kramer asked the board “to give careful consideration to increasing from three to four sections in seventh and eighth grade.” She said there are many reasons for a smaller class size, such as differentiation, helping kids, the emotional component and the cost. “We built the building. We have the space,” Kramer said.
Menahga Superintendent Kevin Wellen recommended sections of 25 to 26 students around third or fourth grade.
Wellen said the Minnesota Department of Education’s “Read Well By Third Grade” plan refers to every child reading at or above grade level no later than the end of second grade.
“We have differing opinions on that. We’ve had discussions on that several times,” said Menahga Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer, adding she interprets it to mean reading well by the end of third grade. Third graders are still working on fluency, while more emphasis is put on comprehension in fourth grade, Mayer said.
“You’re both right,” Haverinen said.
Wellen said that 30 students per section is not uncommon in other school districts.
“Again, this is about trying to talk about maintaining our standards that we value, but also being fiscally responsible. As we start to look at class sizes of 17 to 22, through eventually eighth grade, you’re going to be spending money – recall, a teacher costs us about $67,000 each year,” he said. “Again, we have money in the bank, but people run out of money in the bank by getting class sizes so small that you can’t afford them.”
“If there were an easy answer, it would be made already,” said board chair Andrea Haverinen. She later commented that 30 would be her upper limit.
“Sections of 28, 29, getting up to 30 – that scares me,” said Howard. “Not just as a board member, but as a parent, I don’t want my kid in a class of 29. That, to me, seems really overwhelming, and I would be worried my kids weren’t getting the instruction that they needed.”
Wellen said if a section crosses the 30 threshold, the board could revisit the matter again.
He noted that 10th through 12 grade class sizes are driven by student electives.
Board member Durwin Tomperi said he liked Goehrig’s compromise, as he was inclined to agree with Mayer that “a lot” is going on in third grade.
In other business, the school board did as follows:
For the purposes of open enrollment, capped kindergarten through 12th grade at 88 students per grade.
Approved the creation of a new full-time music position for the 2020-21 school year, which will include reinstating the fifth grade band.
Ended a contract with the Freshwater Education District for a social worker and Early Childhood Family Education special educator. The school district will directly hire for those two positions for 2020-21.
Accepted a $855 Minnesota State High School League Foundation Grant for M Club.
Directed administration to create a 2020-21 calendar with 168 student days and 182 contracted teacher days.
Amended the academic eligibility requirements in the high school and middle school handbook.
Approved lane-change requests for Keylee Sommers and Christine Mohr.
Approved a six-week Family Medical Leave Act request from Deborah Aho.
Learned that the old weight room is being transformed into a sensory room that will be available to all elementary students.
Learned that Allison Schepers is the middle school’s new Math Corps member. She’ll be tutoring fourth through sixth graders.
The next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 in the media center.