School district wants input on reducing class size

"Teachers can do much more for students if they have smaller class sizes, says Margot Hightower, principal at Enterprise Elementary School. Children get so much more when there's a class size of 20 not 30 students, Hightower said. The biggest piece of this (is) giving kids the quality time they deserve so they can develop their skills and teachers can go over things more in depth. Though it's long been talked about in academic circles, the Federal Way school board is hoping members of the public will share its comments April 23 about smaller class sizes and on how the board should direct money toward that goal. The district is deciding how to spend $4.1 million in state funding released following passage of Initiative 728, which voters approved last fall. Residents and parents can comment on six areas where the board could concentrate its spending: * Kindergarten though fourth-grade class size reduction. * Targeted class size reduction in fifth through 12th grade. * Extended learning (i.e. before or after school programs). * Professional teacher development in support of students. * Early childhood education. * Minor building modifications related to class size reductions. The final recommendations will be adopted into the district's budget in August, said Sally McLean, the district's financial director. Every school district is receiving money from the state - about $194 per pupil. The money, McLean said, will come from state property tax revenue and lottery proceeds and will likely be paid to the district in increments throughout the year. This isn't pocket change, said board Vice-president Ann Murphy. This is a lot of money. For that reason, Murphy said she hopes the meeting is well-attended, and says the board will be open to suggestions from residents and parents. We're receiving a remarkable amount of money which would be a significant impact if we do it right, she said. This is their chance to tell us what they'd want. Parent Karen DePew, whose daughter is in the sixth grade, said she is divided among the choices, but would like to see emphasis on early childhood education and reducing class sizes as a whole. I think they should start with the bottom and go all the way up, DePew said. They shouldn't narrow it to a few grades. Green Gables' Hightower said an ideal class size would contain a 25 student to one teacher ratio for third grade and above. An ideal first and second-grade class scenario would have no more than 20 students. If you want to see a lot of things happen with higher test scores and more improvement then smaller classes are it, she said. Our teachers are doing a fabulous job right now. Another problem that many schools face each year is the transient population in Federal Way. Many families move in and out of schools at different times throughout the year, which often creates a bulge effect in a few grades. Class size reduction has also been the source of anger for union members in the Washington Education Association. The union says a recently approved state Senate budget cuts money for smaller class sizes. Have a say The Federal Way school board will meet at 7 p.m., April 23 at Star Lake Elementary School, 4014 S. 270th Street, Kent. Call 945-2000. Under I-728, school districts are authorized to use state funds to reduce class size; provide extended learning opportunities; provide additional professional development for educators; provide early assistance for children who need pre-kindergarten support; and provide building improvements related to class-size reductions. "

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