Class size often more than 30 students South Carroll especially hard hit, figures show

December 11, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

In pockets of the county -- especially southern Carroll -- class sizes are very often 30 students or larger, according to the annual class size report given to the school board at its regular meeting yesterday.

It was no surprise to board member Ann M. Ballard, however, because she has been getting calls all year from fellow South Carroll High School parents. One mother said her daughter was advised to sign up for work release because no room was available for her in the classes she wanted, Ballard said.

"She said, 'My daughter is a senior -- I want her in school.' If you go over and look at this, it's unbelievable," Ballard said. "I am very upset over the staffing."

Ballard, who lives in the South Carroll attendance area and has for years volunteered as school store manager, said that while inadequate school staffing and large class size is a problem countywide, the South Carroll area seems to be hit unfairly. One of the explanations administrators have given her is that South Carroll High had 79 more students enroll than had been projected.

"I think we need to help South Carroll," she said. "I hate to see this go on all year."

Most fellow board members said they agreed with her, but limited funds would mean some other area would have to give up staff.

"Even if we hire more teachers, they need a place to teach," said Carolyn L. Scott. Most schools in southern Carroll are over capacity. Oklahoma Road Middle School and Sykesville Middle School, however, have the highest class sizes for that grade level, and crowding is no longer the problem there -- it's money to hire additional teachers.

South Carroll has 75 classes with more than 30 students -- more than any other high school in the county. Francis Scott Key High has the fewest -- 23 classes over 30.

Counting only academic courses at South Carroll, 54 percent have more than 30 students. By comparison, the figure is 39 percent at Westminster High School, 38 percent at North Carroll High, 19 percent at Liberty and 15 percent at Francis Scott Key.

Ballard said school leaders must look for creative ways to address the inequities.

"Every year we go through this and we sit here and say, 'The commissioners won't give us the money, the commissioners won't give us the money,' " she said. "Maybe I'm preaching to the choir in here. I need to be across the street [at the county office building]."

Carroll has traditionally had some of the worst student-staff ratios in the state, ranking 22 of 24 jurisdictions last year. Numbers will be released today for this year, and are expected to put Carroll in worse standing.

The good news, Superintendent Brian Lockard said, is that Carroll consistently ranks among the best statewide in the percentage of staff who work directly with students, such as teachers, librarians, counselors and aides.

After the meeting, Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education, approached Ballard to let her know elementary schools have even worse staffing.

"In high school, there's a lot more diversification to meet the needs of kids," Mangle said.

The latest report initially sounds good -- 84 elementary classrooms have more than 30 students, compared with 128 last year. The average class size is 24.47, just under the 25 students used by the schools as a goal.

But in reality, Mangle said, the picture is more complicated. The figures are only for regular education, and dozens of special education students in five elementary schools attend regular classes for most of the day. These five schools have regional special education programs, and draw from outside their neighborhoods.

Mangle tries to keep class sizes low at schools such as Hampstead and Robert Moton elementaries to leave room for children from the regional programs. Class sizes there average 23 and 24, respectively, not counting special education students.

That means she has to allow larger class sizes at the schools that don't have large regional special education programs. At Mechanicsville Elementary, for example, the average class size is 26.38 -- with four classrooms having 30 or more students.

Mangle agreed with Ballard that inequities exist -- some courses or schools have opportunities for very small group instruction. For example, remedial reading courses in the high schools have one to 12 students to one teacher.

That nettles Mangle, who would love to put that kind of staff ratio in the early grades, which could prevent the need for remediation in high school.

"We don't have any staff to do that kind of small-group intervention," Mangle said.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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