MCW addresses large class sizes

SHERBURN – While students are starting to count down the days until summer break, school officials are already preparing for next year. For Martin County West, it will likely mean having more elementary classes to address this year’s increase in class sizes.

“This is the time of year when the administration begins looking at class sizes and how to handle it for next year,” said MCW superintendent Allison Schmidt. “There are no definite solutions. … Each year, we look at the numbers, and look at the sections, and we also contact the other districts and check on their projections.”

Some of Martin County West’s elementary classes have experienced a gain of students over the school year, concerning some parents.

Stacie Forsberg of Dunnell, a mother of four MCW elementary students, was one of a group of parents who recently made an active effort to learn the reason behind the larger class sizes, and if this will continue.

“My fourth-grader is in a class with 26 students, I have two third-graders in a class that has either 29 or 30, and a second-grader in a class of 25 students,” Forsberg said. “I would like those classes to be smaller.”

Schmidt said currently the district usually has 2 1/2 to three sections of elementary grades.

“We have three classes for language arts and math, then they are combined into two classes for the other half, such as social studies, science, PE and music,” Schmidt said.

While there are no official rules on class sizes, most districts have their own guidelines.

“Desired class sizes are pending on the grade levels,” Schmidt said. “We are about on average with the rest of the schools around us. The classes do get bigger with older students.”

However, MCW’s elementary class sizes do run slightly higher than Jackson or Fairmont. Jackson has three sections of each class (with the exception of four kindergarten sections) that average about 20 students per class.

In Fairmont, the average fourth-grade class is at 26.6 students, 23.3 students for third grade, and 21 students per class in second grade. Fairmont’s K-6 population is an astounding 913 students (with an additional 100 preschool students also on campus). Martin County West’s elementary population of 383 K-6 students is more on par with Jackson at 377 students in K-5.

Schmidt said the increase in class population occurred during the school year.

“Some grade levels went up throughout the year,” she said. “We had some families moving in, along with some from open enrollment. Oftentimes, for grades 7-12, they like the opportunities we can provide for secondary students, such as our ag program.”

Open enrollment plays a big role for Martin County West, with about 140 students open-enrolling to the district.

“We have over 100 students from the Fairmont district, and we have some from Truman, Butterfield-Odin, and a few from Jackson County Central. We have several students from other districts in every grade level.”

Forsberg and several other parents recently had most of their concerns addressed by attending a Martin County West school board meeting.

“We weren’t on the agenda so we couldn’t speak,” Forsberg said. “But they did mention the addition of classes for next year. … As we left, I think we all decided we wanted to learn more about what’s going on.”

“I talked to them about how we were looking at the projections,” Schmidt said. “Elementary grade sections are probably going to increase for next year, but we’re still waiting for more precise information. Sometimes we’ve added sections as late as August.”

Unless parents indicate they wish to speak at the next board meeting, Schmidt said there are no plans to address any specific concerns from the group. Forsberg indicated the meeting was a learning experience.

“As parents of MCW, we want what’s best for our children, and I think the school board and administration are doing what they think is best,” Forsberg said. “The parents are getting involved now. My main concern is the children and what they are learning, and that we are all doing what is best. … We all came away very encouraged. It’s motivated us to get involved and learn more. We plan to keep going to school board meetings and keep the lines of communication open.”

Forsberg even managed to see a bright side to the current class sizes.

“With increased enrollment, the children are being exposed to a lot more walks of life, and that’s good,” she said. “The district must be doing something right if the enrollment keeps going up.”