Class-size reduction is back for first grade | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Class-size reduction is back for first grade

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Tahoe Valley Elementary School first-grade teacher Gretchen Zeller has 32 students. She will have no more than 20 next year.

Hear that? It’s a collective sigh of relief from teachers, parents and students on the return of small class sizes next year for the first and possibly second grade.

A unanimous vote Tuesday from the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education ushered in the return of class-size reduction thanks to a generous funding pledge from the Lake Tahoe Education Foundation.

The program was cut this school year for budgetary reasons and classes ballooned in size to as many as 32 students in the primary grades. Class-size reduction caps the number of students in a classroom at 20. What resulted was overcrowding and the surrounding issues of less teacher attention to students with individual needs, spread of illnesses and malaise.

The board’s vote stirred audience applause and grins from several, including Jodi Dayberry, vice president of the teachers union who has repeatedly championed the program’s return after it was eliminated from kindergarten to third grade.

“The return of class-size reduction is a positive direction our district is heading in for the benefits of the students,” she said.

Brooke Laine, president of the Lake Tahoe Education Foundation, pledged $80,000 to the district for three years to sustain the program.

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There will be membership drives of $50 for admission to the foundation to help fund the donation. In addition, half the proceeds of monthly Sunday breakfast buffets at Passaretti’s Italian Restaurant starting May 8 will help the cause.

The program is mostly funded by the state’s contribution of $281,488, but the district still would have had to find $78,000 to bring back the program for first grade. The Education Foundation’s donation now will cover that amount.

Although Laine said the foundation will fulfill its pledge, board President Wendy David asked Chief Financial Officer Mike Curran if the district could financially sustain class-size reduction at the first grade.

“Yes we can,” Curran responded.

The donation clears the way for the district to examine avenues to possibly bring back second grade and even kindergarten forms of class-size reduction.

State law requires districts to provide small class sizes to first grade, then second followed by third grade or kindergarten.

After years of financial cutbacks to counter revenue lost mostly from declining enrollment, officials were pleased to add back a program many teachers and parents valued.

“It’s nice to talk about something positive once in awhile because out situation can get a little dire,” Assistant Superintendent Barbara Davis said.

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