FARMINGTON — The five kindergarten classes at W. G. Mallett School in Farmington are burgeoning with students, making it difficult for teachers to teach and for students to learn, the principal told Mt. Blue Regional School District directors Tuesday night.

A contingent of Mallett staff and parents appealed to the school board to consider adding a sixth kindergarten class at Mallett. The new school is set to open in September and already, Principal Tracy Williams is anticipating an additional spike in enrollment.

“Our teachers cannot deliver the instruction the kids need,” Williams said. “We need to be prepared to think about what we will do this fall.”

Teachers and Williams say there are more “transient” students whose families move in and out of schools and districts, making it difficult for a child to settle into a class. And absenteeism is high because parents keep children home for a number of reasons, she said.

All of this creates difficult behavior problems that can be compounded by developmental needs that require additional attention in the classroom, Williams said.

The school district, following the Maine Department of Education guidelines, recommends 18 students in a elementary school classroom.

At Mallett, only one of the five kindergarten classes meets that criteria.

Two classes have 25 students, one has 21 and the other has 20. Two of the largest classes have educational technicians but that adds to the planning and prep workload for teachers, Williams said.

In contrast, Cushing School in Wilton has three kindergarten classes of 15, 14 and 12 students. At Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon, there are 29 students with 18 in one classroom and the rest blended in with first-graders, which creates its own set of problems, Principal Cheryl Pike said.

The school board is preparing to work on a budget for 2011-12 and is looking for places to cut an anticipated $1 million in lost state aid, part of a $60 million shortfall in education spending statewide, according to the Department of Education.

“We are asking the school board to please look at this situation. We don’t want to wait until the summer to decide we need another class,” Williams said.

She said other options could be explored that would not require hiring a new employee.

Guidance counselor Morgan Leso said she has observed a declining ability of students in the crowded classrooms to write and read and socialize.

“Research shows how important it is for children to start out in small classes of 17 or less,” she told the board. “Attention to learning goes up and behavior problems go down.”

Smaller classes result in better reading and math skills, better test scores, better behavior and fewer discipline problems, allowing teachers to pay greater attention to each pupil, she said.

“We are doing our children a disservice,” she said.

Leso noted 61 percent of Mallett students qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches because they are from low-income families.

“Low economic status correlates to low achievement and greater risk for academic failure,” she said.

Research shows children who are already struggling cannot function in classrooms that are too noisy, Leso said.

“They are unable to focus,” she said. “Smaller classrooms should be a priority instead of an afterthought.”

Leso is working with 40 percent of the students in one kindergarten class of 25, compared to 15 percent in other classes.

Teacher Mindy Foss said some children are not ready for kindergarten when they enter school.

“They require a high level of support to meet the learning standards by the end of the year,” she said. “I struggle to keep up with the work.”

She said 27 percent of the class require math and/or literacy support; 6 percent have been retained from last year; 36 percent are transients; and 17 percent are in special education.

Also urging the board to address the problem were kindergarten teachers Ina Austin, Stacey Augustine, JoAnn Myers and Nicole Ball.

On a chart, Myers showed that from 2004-05 to January/February 2011, Mallett went from 367 students and 95 kindergartners to 412 students now with 108 in kindergarten. There were also 31 “transient” students in all of 2004 compared to 39 in the first half of this school year.

School board member and parent Betsey Hyde of Temple said the problem at Mallett is snowballing into the higher grades as students unable to keep up with the work or who have behavior issues are being moved into the higher grades.

“Parents I know are pulling out their kids to home-school them,” she said.

Parent Karrie McCarthy, the mother of four, said the situation is causing considerable strain on staff and hurting students.

“We need to give our students the strong foundation they all deserve,” she said.


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