Small third-grade classes seen as crucial |

Small third-grade classes seen as crucial

William Ferchland

Sierra House Elementary student Chris Wilson described one benefit of having fewer students in a classroom.

“It’s going to be less hard for the teacher because they don’t have to keep control of 10 more people,” said Chris, a third-grader. “And there is less talking and less noise in class so you can hear the teacher better.”

The Lake Tahoe Unified School District board will consider tonight instituting class-size reduction, which limits the number of students in each classroom at 20 per teacher, for next school year. The proposal also includes bringing one teacher to three elementary sites to help improve the reading skills of fourth and fifth grade students not performing at grade level.

The two-pronged approach, if approved by the five-member board, is geared to meet target scores among low-achieving student subgroups in the Academic Performance Index.

In all, the district would need at least seven additional teachers. No money from the district’s general fund would be used to finance the programs.

“What we’re trying to do is get ahead of the game,” said district Superintendent Jim Tarwater. “We’re trying to look at current research-based intervention programs that work.”

First and second grades have class-size reduction this year and financial pledges for the next two. Next school year, kindergarten will join the ranks with a maximum of 20 students in each classroom.

Third-grade classes this year have roughly 30 students.

If approved, the district has the financial intent to fund third-grade class-size reduction for three years, but Tarwater envisions the program having a long life span.

Class-size reduction used to be at every primary grade level as well as the freshmen level, but the programs were part of financial cuts from declining enrollment.

Sierra House Principal Jim Watson stressed small class sizes at the third grade level is crucial.

“Third grade is such a challenge. … It’s much more project-driven,” he said.

Watson added the district saved categorical money, funds apart from the general coffers used only for a specific purpose, in seeing what areas declining enrollment would strike.

The district is responding to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell’s call to increase API scores, shorten achievement gaps between student subgroups and increase school accountability.

“California must close the academic achievement gap that is threatening the futures of too many of our students and indeed threatens the social and economic future of our state,” he said in a press release. “We need to set the same high expectations for all students within our accountability system. I know when you raise the bar, students and schools reach to meet it.”

Some student subgroups recognized by the state include Hispanic or Latino, White, English learners, socioeconomically disadvantaged and those with disabilities. The state set a score of 800 for schools in the API index. Tahoe Valley Elementary has come the closest, with a score of 774, while Bijou had the lowest mark of 646.

In addition to the proposal, the board will hear a report by the Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation and an update on construction projects. Board members will convene at South Tahoe High School for the annual senior students lunch at noon and reconvene at 6 p.m. at the district boardroom at 1021 Al Tahoe Blvd.

How will the programs be funded?

Approximately $44,207 in Title 2 federal funds will be the district’s contribution for third grade class-size reduction. The state will cover $293,888, or 87 percent, of the $338,095 needed for the estimated five additional teachers – two possibly at Sierra House with one each at the remaining three elementary sites – to implement the program.

Since Bijou, Sierra House and Tahoe Valley elementary schools have at least 35 percent of their student population in the economically disadvantaged subgroup, the district is set to use $323,037 Title 1 funds to pay for the additional teachers and three licensing fees (at $40,000 each) for Read 180 intervention programs.

The student demographics at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School do not meet criteria for Title 1.

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