Newton Class Sizes Down Slightly; School Committee Focuses on Need for Override

Several Newton School Committee members said class sizes will only remain stable if the March 12 override package passes.

Although the district showed slight improvement in this year's class size numbers, Newton School Committee members Monday night said the March 12 override must pass in order to keep class sizes stable.

"The overall conversation is about how our class sizes are holding steady, but there are 250 more kids coming in next year and there are many teachers we need to hire to serve those children well," School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff said.

According to the district's annual class size report, which was presented last night by Deputy Superintendent/Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Guryan, both the elementary and middle school class sizes are down after a ten-year high reported last year. High school class sizes are also down slightly.

The average elementary school class size is down from 22.3 students last year to 22 students this year, Guryan said. The middle school average class size, which Guryan said showed the most improvement, is down from 22.8 to 21.9 this year. 

"This is an improvement," Guryan said. "It's reflective of steps we've taken to handle rising enrollment." 

Those steps include "targeted" staffing additions that were, for the most part, funded through extra state aid awarded to Newton last year, Superintendent David Fleishman said. 

The average middle school team size is also down from 92 students to 91 students this year, however, there are still some large teams in the district including sixth grade at Brown (95 students), sixth grade at F.A. Day (93 students) and eighth grade at F.A. Day (96 students).

The target team size is around 88-90 students.

Nevertheless, Guryan said the team sizes are more balanced between the three grades (6-8) and four middle schools this year. The numbers also show an improvement from some Oak Hill and F.A. Day teams that exceeded 100 students last year.

At the high schools, the average class size (five major subject areas) is down slightly from 22 to 21.9, but still remains at a high point for the decade, the report says.

Moving forward, keeping classes at a size "that we know will help [students] learn," Sokoloff said the district needs funding from the proposed override.

Newton voters will head the polls on March 12 to vote on Mayor Setti Warren's $11.4 million override package. The override consists of three ballot questions, including an $8.4 million operating override and two debt exclusion overrides for the rebuilding of Angier and Cabot elementary schools. 

Within the $8.4 million operating override, the mayor has designated $4.5 million to handle growth and enrollment in the Newton Public Schools, which has led to higher class sizes, school officials say. The $4.5 million is slated to cover costs for additional teachers, professional development, technology and some short-term facilities needs.

"The override will allow us to keep the class sizes at around what they are now, and solve some of the more egregious problems of larger class sizes," Sokoloff said.

The Numbers

The district's full class size report is included in the .pdf section above.

Elementary class sizes (last three years)

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Elementary 21.9 22.0 22.3 22.3 22

Middle school class and team sizes

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Middle School class size 21.2 21.7 21.7 22.8 21.9 Middle School team size 87 90 90 92 91

High school class sizes

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 High Schools 21.4 21.3 21.6 22.0 21.9

Classrooms with 25 students or more

Level 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Elementary 19% 17% 16% 18% 16% Middle 14% 14% 13% 26% 17% High 28% 25% 26% 29% 27%

Classrooms with fewer than 20 students

Level 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-2012 2012-13 Elementary 16% 18% 12% 11% 15% Middle 25% 20% 16% 11% 18% High 29% 30% 26% 24% 25%
NEIL RONCHINSKY February 26, 2013 at 04:57 PM
This is the same rotten to the core school committee that thought building the Taj Ma high school was a great idea, and would NOT require an override. With the money wasted on that building, we could have renovated ALL of our crumbling elementary schools. Dont forget, the only people getting raises in this horrible economy are government workers. They get their raises by digging deeper into the pockets of hard working private sector workers. Let the school committee sleep in the bed they have made, vote NO NO NO.
Dan Fahey February 26, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Actually, Neil, only two of the 8 school committee members were on the committee back when NNHS was being built. Noy only that, the superintendent wasn't here the, nor was the current mayor, nor quite a number of new aldermen. I do agree with you that some of our previous elected leaders created many of the ills we are now working through but we can't unring the NNHS "bell;" we must still get things done that are critical to having the city services most want. NNHS should have been done via a debt exclusion override, but wasn't. So the impact of that is that our operating budget is being eaten up to the tune of about $10 million to cover its debt costs. This mayor is not making that mistake; he is properly asking for debt exclusions to cover 2 elementary schools, and would have asked that Zervas be covered that way too, but for the fact the MSBA won't let us. Since Zerzas can't wait, he has included it in the operating override.
NEIL RONCHINSKY February 26, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Dan Fahey dont start telling me who is and who isnt responsible for the newton north tragedy. The fact of the matter is that no current or future school committee member would have ever blocked the project, or any project that digs deeper into my pocket. If a Taj Ma High school debt exclusion could have passed, we would have had a vote. Our property taxes are automatically raised 2 1/2% EVERY year. This is never enough for you politicians. You people LOVE spending other peoples money. In this country, we spend the most on education in the world, and yet, our children are getting crushed. This is because of poor management by school committee members such as you, dan fahey. Focus on the teachers and curriculum(more math, less feelings classes), and less on buildings and yourselves. Please vote NO NO NO, and stop voting for people like dan fahey. Look to people who understand a budget, and how tough it is right now for us suckers working in the private sector.
Smgm February 26, 2013 at 11:32 PM
Dan was just responding to your inaccurate quote " this is the same rotten to the core school committee..." I'm not convinced of the override, but it comments and attitudes like yours that hurt your cause more than help it
Really? February 27, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Hey Neil - Dan's not a School Committee member. Or an alderman. But he actually work really hard to block "them" from "digging into your pockets" in 2008. Have you been paying any attention at all?
Dan Fahey February 27, 2013 at 02:11 AM
@Neil, I wasn't disrespectful in my comments to you, and I don't deserve your being disrespectful. We can disagree without being attacking. But as "Really" points out, I have never been an elected official, and in fact became a political activist in "08 BECAUSE of the travesty of NNHS, co-leading the group that defeated the override then. I've focused ever since at trying to influence Newton's leaders to utilize best practices to improve our fiscal and service delivery environments. And for what it's worth, Neil, I do understand our budgets quite well, and BECAUSE I do, and because I know what this administration has done to positively influence our city's condition, I am supporting YES, YES, YES this time around. I'm a middle-of-the-road fiscally conservative person in favor of THIS override.
Steve Siegel February 27, 2013 at 05:56 AM
Neil, point of information: I wrote two TAB editorials prior to the 2008 override, urging a NO vote since I was convinced this was the only thing that would compel Newton leadership to do the hard work of eliminating our structural deficit. At the time I also urged a YES vote on a future override if the structural deficit was tamed, a strong need could be demonstrated, and a detailed plan was presented. Our leadership has met this test and I believe that this override is in Newton’s best interest. Steve Siegel Ward 5 School Committee
Jan Huffman February 27, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Melanie - Try to be more independent. Instead of parroting Sandy Guryan's characterization of needing more teachers per pupil as "improvement" describe it as a "decrease" in class size. There are those of us who characterize decreased class size as "inefficiency," particularly those of us who grew up in the days of higher College Board scores in classrooms of more than thirty students. Smaller classes mean less efficient education, not improved learning. Boosting class sizes would alleviate the need for more classrooms and reduce personnel costs, providing a simple alternative to all three override proposals. The money saved on reduced payroll could pay to fix the schools in need of repair.
Really? February 27, 2013 at 06:53 PM
You wouldn't happen to have any evidence to back up your claim that "College Board scores" were higher back in the days of 30 students per class? Or that "boosting class sizes" would improve educational outcomes?
Dan Fahey February 27, 2013 at 07:03 PM
To the contrary, the research points out that at least in the lower grades lower class size is quite important. Less so at the high school level.
Jan Huffman February 27, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Answer to question 1: Yes. See the chart "Mean SAT Scores of College-Bound Seniors, 1972–2010" on page 7 or 8 of the report "SAT® Trends" by the College Board at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/2010-sat-trends.pdf . Between 1972 and 2010 the "All" Critical Reading mean score dropped 29 points from 530 to 501 and the Mathematics score increased by 7 points from 509 to 516, for a net decrease of 22 points. These scores are presented adjusted to account for scoring changes over the years. Answer to question 2: I did not make this claim. Please re-read what I said that boosting class sizes would accomplish.
Suzanne Rourke February 27, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Bravo, Jan! The goal here is high test scores, not small class size.
Really? February 27, 2013 at 09:39 PM
You did read the footnote on that report - the one that warns against using aggregate SAT data to draw conclusions about educational attainment? You must realize that in 1972, the number of students who attended college (and therefore took the SAT) was much lower, and was a self-selected group of the higher-performing students. The group taking the SAT in 2010 was much larger and much more diverse; many more students now attend college as fewer careers are available to people without a college degree. You can't draw any conclusion on the impact of class size on test scores from this data. And I know you said that boosting class size would reduce costs; I assumed you also believed that outcomes would be maintained or improved since you asserted that "test scores" were higher back when class sizes were larger. But maybe you're not interested in maintaining or improving outcomes - just reducing costs.


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