New Castle News

March 9, 2013

Classroom size factors into Lockley construction project

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Lockley Early Learning Center architect says there will be room in the school to accommodate smaller class sizes after consolidation.

David A. Esposito, with Eckles Architecture and Engineering, said extra class-sized rooms have been included in the plans for each grade for enrichment and remedial purposes, and those could be used as classrooms for a couple of years until enrollment figures drop.

Members of the New Castle school board had expressed alarm at their Feb. 26 meeting after seeing current enrollment figures that indicate the planned learning center might not be large enough.

The higher enrollment, if it continues for two more years, could result in class sizes of as many as 28 students in the primary grades, according to projections provided at that meeting by acting superintendent Stanley Magusiak.

Both Magusiak and the board members agree class size in the lower grade levels should be limited to the low 20s.

“I don’t want to see 28 students in classes for first and second grades,” Magusiak said. “We’ve been running around 23 to 25 and sometimes less than that for several years.”

He cautioned the figures he presented are not a true picture for when the school opens, because the district does not yet have the figures for 2014-15.

Should they remain at that level, the district will have to determine how to accommodate the students.



BACKGROUND

Based on a straw vote by the board Feb. 26, the consolidation would occur at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

The plans are to close the John F. Kennedy, West Side and Thaddeus Stevens elementary schools once the Lockley Early Learning Center is completed and house all kindergarten, first- and second-grade students there.

Teachers would bid for jobs at the new school and it would open for the 2014-15 year.

The tentative plan is to put third-grade classes at George Washington Intermediate School, which currently houses grades four, five and six.

While there is speculation of a shortage of classrooms there, Magusiak reasoned there were 37 classes in 1988-89 when the school was remodeled, and now there are 27. So there should be 10 classrooms available in the building to accommodate the incoming third-graders.

He said Joe Anderson, building principal, is assessing classroom space there to make the needed accommodations.



MAKING ROOM

Magusiak said the district’s plan is to use other rooms in the early learning center to reduce the class sizes to around 23 or 24 students.

“We’ll meet with the administrators, look at the class sizes and see where we can make it work.” He added knowing how many students register for kindergarten next year and in 2014-15 will be key.

If the numbers were to be based on this school year’s enrollment, the students per grade, number of teachers and class sizes at Lockley would be:

•Kindergarten — 281 students, 12 teachers, 24 students per class.

•First grade — 276 students, 10 teachers, 28 students per class.

•Second grade — 283 students, 10 teachers, 28 students per class.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education enrollment projections for this year showed 233 kindergartners, 243 first-graders and 232 second-graders.

The department’s 2014-15 projections, used to calculate the size of the Lockley expansion, show 222 in kindergarten, 220 in first grade, 217 in second grade.

“These are the numbers we have at this point,” Magusiak said, noting those kindergartners will be in first grade next year, but the district typically loses a few students in the transition from kindergarten to first grade.

“I’m looking at these numbers and I remember George Gabriel saying ‘I refuse to have 28 kids in a classroom,’” board member Barbara Razzano commented at the Feb. 26 meeting.

“Nobody was happy with the class size when we talked about consolidation,” she said. “That’s why we’re building a $20 million building. I wish we would have had these numbers before.”

Razzano has opposed the project from the outset, but voted to proceed with construction only after learning the district could lose its subsidy and owe other money in bond refinancing losses if it did not proceed.

“Does this tell me we are consolidating but our class sizes are just as large?” board member Anna Pascarella asked.



THE ARCHITECT’S VIEW

Magusiak said he and district business manager Joseph Ambrosini met with Esposito the day after that meeting, and he told them there are rooms in the plans that could accommodate higher enrollment figures.

When it provided enrollment figures to the state to have the plans approved for reimbursement, the district had used the department of education’s projections.

According to Magusiak and Ambrosini, the state requires districts to use the education department’s enrollment projections, or a district can pay for its own demographic study.

They explained school districts were “overbuilding” and the state did not want to share in the reimbursements for buildings that were bigger than what schools actually need.

According to Esposito, the Pennsylvania Department of Education standard for class sizes is typically 25 students.

Esposito said the plans for the Lockley center were designed for 10 classrooms each for first and second grades, not including special education, and 12 classrooms for kindergarten.

“There are extra spaces built into the building to accommodate the classes for a year or two,” he noted.

For example, each grade level will have a room for enrichment and remediation, and kindergarten would share an enrichment and remediation room with two classes per space.

He noted there also will be smaller group spaces throughout the building for those purposes as well.

An additional classroom will be located next to the library for “bubble” use, meaning if there are more students, he said.

“The district could use the pullout remedial rooms for those, and conduct remediation in the smaller rooms,” he said, giving it 11 classrooms per grade level.

That would reduce the class sizes to 25 for the first and second years, he estimated.

“That’s a pretty standard enrollment,” he said. “Then later when enrollment drops, the regular classrooms should be able to accommodate them.”

OTHER OPTIONS

Esposito pointed out that when the building was in the planning stages, the board was telling the administration to make changes and be reasonable about what they decided to build.

He noted the art and music rooms are larger than classrooms of 25 and there are two computer labs in the plans, too. Using some of those rooms for a couple of years also is a possibility, he said.

Because of the enrollment figures, the district will probably have to have two additional teachers to accommodate the extra classrooms, according to Magusiak and Ambrosini.

Ambrosini explained the district would not add new ones, rather, it would not cut as many teachers as anticipated.

The district always has stipulated that the preference would be to make staff cuts through attrition, he added.

The district currently has 39 teachers in the three grades. The new building will have 32 — 12 for kindergarten, 10 for first-grade and 10 for second grade — with possibly two more for the additional classrooms.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)