BARRINGTON – Months of parent concern led to cheers Tuesday evening as Barrington 220 school board members approved the addition of four more 2014-15 elementary classes.
Discussing the preliminary budget, the board gave new superintendent Brian Harris permission to hire four more full-time teachers to bring down above-guideline class size projections at Countryside (in second and fourth grade) and Roslyn Road (in third grade) schools. In addition, a first-grade class will be added to Grove school, where triplets have moved into the district.
The board said Harris will monitor classes still projected to be above guidelines – first grade at Lines and Roslyn Road schools – adding two more full-time elementary teachers, if necessary, and checking into the high school to see whether a teacher is needed for a single class period.
Class size guidelines, established by the district in 2001, state that kindergarten through second-grade classes should contain no more than 23 students; third grade, 25; and fourth and fifth grades, 27. Barrington 220 is a 72-square-mile district with eight elementary schools.
Harris, who officially began his role in the district two weeks ago, said the class size conversation is "familiar in a lot of school districts – especially this time of year."
"Numbers do change," Harris said. "I'll continue to watch the remaining elementary classes very closely over the next few weeks."
Since the June 12 board meeting, Harris said more than 20 elementary students have moved into the district.
Harris said the established guidelines are typical in comparison to area districts – not much higher or lower than comparable communities.
Beyond fifth grade, class sizes tend to increase, Harris said, adding that the district doesn't need to add teachers to the middle or high-school levels, aside from a possible class period.
"Kids learn to read and then they read to learn," Harris said.
To address parents who said guidelines are set too high, school board president Brian Battle said the group would like to figure out an all-day kindergarten program before they re-establish elementary guidelines.
The board assigned Harris to gather feedback from teachers about present guidelines and putting together a staff report to be heard at a public board meeting this fall.
Second-grade classes at Countryside will now be two sections of 17 students and one section of 18 students, Harris said, adding that these sizes are "in line" with others across the district.
Fourth-grade classes at Countryside will be two sections of 20 students and one section of 19 students, Harris said, "again, in line with others in the district."
A third section in Roslyn Road third-grade classes will bring projections back from being two students over guidelines. First-grade classes at Roslyn Road and Lines are still projected to be at least one student above guidelines, without Harris using his allowed contingency.
Countryside parent Mike Shackleton, who was concerned about class sizes, said the board made the right choice.
"I don't want a school district where parents from different schools feel like they're competing for resources," he said.
Alix Soske, a Countryside parent and former Chicago Public Schools teacher, said she could tell the school board had been listening to parents' concerns.
"Class size matters and it matters the most," Soske said. "If you're not willing to pay for smaller class sizes now, you end up paying for it later."
Board member Wendy Farley said the present class size projections are the best numbers she has seen in six years.
"My elementary student was once in a class with 29 students," Farley said. "It was a disaster of a year."
Farley said it's challenging to maintain a balanced budget and commit to reasonable class sizes, but it's what matters most for the kids.
Another enrollment update will be presented at the next board meeting Aug. 12.