Imagine being the sole teacher in a classroom of 25 five-year-olds, many of who have never been in a school setting before.
“It’s chaotic,” said Cheryl Sottolano, principal at Westfield Area Elementary School. “There are so many fires to put out when you’re basically training how to do school with that many kids.”
Sottolano asked the Northern Tioga School board at its Sept. 13 meeting to address larger-than-normal kindergarten class sizes at Westfield and to reconsider the district’s class size policy.
“The policy allows us to go up to 26 kids. That’s not conducive for learning,” said Sottolano. “I’ve checked into neighboring districts’ class sizes, and nobody is at 20. Wellsboro is at 14.”
Sottolano said two weeks before school started, Westfield had 34 registered for kindergarten. As of Monday, there are 47 kids split between two classrooms. Clark Wood currently has 45 kindergarteners in two classrooms and R.B. Walter Elementary has 75 in four classrooms.
Jess Millard, principal at Clark Wood, said he “100% absolutely agrees” with Sottolano’s concerns, as did two parents attending.
When school board member Greg Cummings asked if adding teacher aides would help, Sottolano said likely not. She said even with aides being used now, the environment in the kindergarten rooms is just “too chaotic.”
Sottolano also said the schools already have trouble finding part-time aides because the positions don’t include benefits.
“I hate to hire a teacher now and have to furlough them next year,” said Cummings, adding that whatever is done for Westfield would have to be offered at the other elementary schools. “I’d want to see aides in the classroom. I don’t see how that wouldn’t be a help.”
A motion by Cummings with a second by Kim Strauser to hire two part-time aides failed to pass.
“I don’t often see principals asking for new teachers. They’re the ones who know the needs of their buildings and the needs of their students,” said Jean Kohut, whose motion to hire a new kindergarten teacher at Westfield failed to garner a second.
Strauser said hiring another teacher just isn’t in the district’s budget.
“I don’t think you understand the budget, Cheryl,” said Strauser, addressing Sottolano. “Do you realize we could be closing a school within a year? You guys need to help us come up with a solution, a better solution.”
The board unanimously voted to hire two full-time aides, expected to cost between $46,000-$47,000 each depending on insurance policies. One aide will float between the two kindergarten classes at Westfield and the other at Clark Wood.
“We’ll do whatever you decide, but do I think that’s a good idea? No,” said Sottolano.
Also at the meeting, the board:
- Approved hiring Kris Kaufman, principal at Williamson High School for several years, as principal of academic affairs for the district.
- Granted tenure to Korianne McManus, autistic support teachers at Clark Wood.
- Accepted the resignations of Kassanda Murrelle, teacher at R.B. Walter; Wade Owlett, teacher at Clark Wood; Jessica Cole, teacher at Cowanesque Valley; and Carol Padgett, teacher aide at Williamson High, all effective immediately.
- Announced the next board meeting is 7 p.m. on Oct. 11.