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Administrators advocate small classes

It's likely the Tonawanda School Board will face a difficult decision in the next few months as members begin to discuss the 2007-08 budget weighing the benefits of retaining current staffing levels to maintain low class sizes or reducing expenses.

During Tuesday's regular board meeting, it was clear which side district administrators fell on. Sharon Lansing and Mary Beth Scullion, assistant superintendents, joined with several building principals to present a report to the School Board advocating small class sizes.

The report came about after the staffing levels were questioned in the spring. Various board members and residents wondered why staffing levels increased when student enrollment was declining, a trend that is expected to last at least through the end of this decade. The board eventually cut five positions in the district to decrease the anticipated tax increase.

Tuesday, Scullion pointed out that when the district cut two sixth-grade teaching positions last year, class sizes grew from 19 to 21 students per class to 24 to 27 children, which is above average.

As multiple administrators presented the report, each one discussed how smaller classes have often boosted student achievement and scores. Several studies recommended that pupils in kindergarten through third grade should ideally be in classes of about 15. Tonawanda officials recommended the district go no higher than 20 students in a room in those grade levels.

Mullen Elementary Principal John McKenna said the district's realignment of the four elementary buildings a few years ago allowed teachers to refocus their instruction and reduce class sizes.

"We have really reaped the benefits over the past four years as our [scores] have gone up," said McKenna. "It's been very significant for our success."

The board offered no questions of the administrators' report. With the board preparing to enter into the budget discussion season in January, staffing level is an issue that is likely to be revisited soon.

"We can't control growth patterns year to year, unless we change where people go every year to have equal class sizes," said Superintendent Barbara Peters. "It's not always going to be perfect. It's almost impossible to have equitable class sizes in every single building."

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