As a parent, I value smaller class sizes for my children. This has been one of the distinctive characteristics of our elementary school that attracts families to our school district and keeps our property values high. Small class size is something that was highlighted during the campaign to ask our community to vote for the referendum. From 2007 to 2018, the Cumberland (now WLES) website boasted that “our average class size is 19, which allows us to foster strong interpersonal relationships in a safe school environment” (archived website). This claim of an average class size of 19 was not true in any year since 2007. Then, in June 2018 the WLES website was updated to state that “our average class sizes vary from 18-24 students.” This was an announcement that our school leaders no longer value small class sizes, a decision made entirely without community input. Small class sizes made our district stand out and was something families considered when deciding which school district to move into.
As shown in the figure below, kindergarten class sizes were intentionally kept low for several years even as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade class sizes increased. Today, our kindergarten classrooms have just as many students per classroom as in the other grades, and sometimes more. As a teacher, I can tell you from personal experience that 24 kindergartners in a classroom is very different than 24 sixth graders in a classroom. Our district is losing kindergarten teachers at a high rate, in part because the increased class size is increasing the difficulty of teaching. If we think back to our own kids’ first day of kindergarten, how little and uncertain they are at five years old, we want their teacher to be on top of everything. Kindergartners need a teacher who will give hugs, wipe noses, tie shoes, put on bandaids, all while teaching kids how to line up and take turns speaking. That’s in addition to ABCs, 123s, etc. Five-year olds need a lot of one-on-one attention. Cramming so many young children into one classroom leaves our teachers feeling overwhelmed.