Delaware News

Less elbow room for teachers, students

Growth means classroom space at a premium in Delaware schools

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As enrollment continues to increase, class sizes are getting larger within the Delaware City School district.

The growth superceded the district's ability to create new classroom spaces and hire more teachers in time for this school year, but district leaders said they are working toward that goal.

Jerry Stewart, the district's executive director of human and material resources, said enrollment has grown exponentially over time, but the district has not kept pace in hiring staff in order to maintain the same number of teachers per group of students.

"We are nearing the top of what we believe is a reasonable class size," he said. "We have added as much space as we can, and we would have added more if we could."

Reasonable class sizes are considered to be 25 or fewer students for kindergarten and first grade; 27 or fewer in grades 2-4; and 28 -- or an average of 25 per department -- in grades 5-12.

Stewart said this is a trend that can be seen around the state, not just in Delaware.

He presented information to the school board Sept. 23, explaining that he included not only student-teacher ratios -- which he said can be misleading -- but the average class size per teacher.

"The pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as the average class size," Stewart said. "Pupil-teacher ratios include all full-time teachers such as art, physical education, music and special-education teachers that do not actually have a traditional class."

When districts look at student-teacher ratios, they look a lot smaller than the average class size, he said.

Stewart provided a snapshot of student-teacher ratios and average class sizes for the board. They are:

* Grades pre-K through 4: student-teacher ratio, 16.8 to 1; average class size, 20.9; total number of students enrolled, 2,343.

* Grades 5-6: student-teacher ratio, 18.2 to 1; average class size, 27; total number of students enrolled, 863.

* Grades 7-8: student-teacher ratio, 17.6 to 1; average class size, 27.8; total number of students enrolled, 834.

* High school English courses: student-teacher ratio, 19.8 to 1; average class size, 23.5; total number of students enrolled, 1,492.

Stewart said he wanted to paint a picture of how many students per teacher there are, and how many students are in an actual classroom.

The student-teacher ratio is smaller at Dempsey Middle School than at Willis Intermediate School due to the additional electives students may choose to take, he said.

"Although there are fewer students at Dempsey, there are more teachers, which leads the pupil-teacher ratio to be lower," he said. "Still, the average class size at Dempsey is higher than at Willis."

High school averages are harder to gather due to the number of curriculum options for students. Stewart chose to look at a few core subjects to garner information.

In 2003, the district's average student-teacher ratio was 14.5 to 1. This year, that ratio is 17.85 to 1.

"What this means is that the enrollment has grown over time, but we have not kept up with adding additional staff and building space," he said.

Stewart said he believes Delaware has kept a careful balance in terms of the ratio.

"We have maintained reasonable class sizes over the years, even in light of the building concerns we have with needing additional classroom space," he said.

Stewart said the board is including additional staff requirements in the budget for the next five years, and the planned renovations -- funded by the bond issue approved last year by voters -- should help with additional classroom space.

"Class sizes are large this year and it will be a challenge for the teachers," he said. "We are just under the maximum in our class sizes."

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