Higley schools struggle with overcrowding - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Higley schools struggle with overcrowding

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Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:12 pm | Updated: 11:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Continued growth in the Higley Unified School District has administrators looking at ways to bring down class sizes.

However, with limited available funds and classroom space, some schools are just having to deal with larger class sizes, school officials said.

At Thursday night's school board meeting, associate superintendent Denise Birdwell outlined enrollment at each of the district's seven elementary schools and showed the costs needed to hire enough teachers to bring the classes down to acceptable levels.

While several grades at several schools are reaching high numbers, of highest and immediate concern is first and second grades at Gateway Pointe Elementary School, second grade at Higley Elementary School and fifth grade at Chaparral Elementary School, Birdwell said.

Gateway Pointe has reached intervention levels with average class sizes of 30 in first grade and 31 students in the second grade. Birdwell said she is waiting to hear from the principal on whether the first and second grade teachers would prefer the district hire classroom aides to help out, or whether additional classes and teachers should be hired.

The district is looking to hire a second-grade teacher at Higley Elementary where the average second grade class size is 32 students, Birdwell said.

Chaparral's fifth grade has average class sizes of 34 students. However, the school does not have any additional classroom space to add another class, Birdwell said.

The district approved plans last month to build a new classroom wing at Chaparral. The addition will bring the school to the same square footage as Cortina and Power Ranch elementary schools, increasing the capacity of the school from 1,025 to 1,200 students.

That project is expected to take place during the school year.

If the district hired enough teachers to bring classroom sizes to the acceptable ratio, it would cost the district $1.25 million. That cost averages each teacher's salary to be $50,000, Birdwell said.

"Just adding one teacher is an immense cost," she said.

Birdwell and a couple board members said they want to begin discussions in January on whether the district should ask voters to approve an override for kindergarten through third grades, which would give the district money to hire more teachers in the lower grades.

Although the district has a policy on class sizes, Birdwell said she wants to bring it back to the board with suggestions on how to improve it.

Board member Venessa Whitener said she thinks the policy is thorough, but said it needs to consider schools on a case-by-case basis.

"Parents need to know that some schools just don't have any more room," she said. "The teachers are trying their hardest to maintain those high classes."

The district plans to open Centennial Elementary School in the 2009-10 school year in Power Ranch, which would alleviate some of the overcrowding.

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