Disclosure: My daughter is about to finish first grade at South Elementary School. My wife was one of the parents who signed the letters referenced in this article.
A group of more than 150 parents say they are “disappointed” with the Andover School Committee’s rejection of their request to meet about staffing concerns at South Elementary School.
“School staffing decisions are, by law, within the authority of the Superintendent and are not under the purview of the School Committee,” Chair Lauren Conoscenti said in a note to the families. “While we welcome conversations with any member of the community about matters under our purview, at this time we believe we have shared all available information concerning class size and have verified that district action and response has been both reasonable and responsible.”
The parents want the district to reconsider a decision to reassign a teacher and eliminate one of four first grade classes this fall. The parents contacted the school committee when they were not satisfied with separate responses from Principal Brenda Lee and Superintendent Magda Parvey.
Andover Public Schools spokeswoman Nicole Kieser said Conoscenti didn’t decline the request for the informal meeting with two committee members, noting her response said school committee members “welcome conversations” with community members.
In her response to parents, Parvey said reassigning a South first grade teacher to another elementary school would not necessarily increase student-to-teacher ratios, and that June was too soon to determine how many students will be enrolled in each first grade class.
“It would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer funding to utilize resources without a review of appropriate data to inform the best use of that resource,” Parvey said. “As experienced educators, our decisions are not arbitrary or based on ‘what the district has always done’.”
Kieser noted the completion of the new West Elementary School may help to reduce elementary class sizes, but that won’t be known until the start of the 2025-26 school year.
“Once the project is completed in 2024, the district will reallocate resources, including a redistricting of our elementary schools,” Kieser said. “This may result in smaller class sizes; however, this review won’t take place until the project is complete.”
We “are disappointed at the school committee’s refusal to grant us a meeting. We requested an informal meeting to discuss the educational goals of the district and the school district’s budget, both of which are under the purview of the School Committee,” the parents said in a response to Conoscenti Thursday. “We feel there is a larger issue, which has been brought to light from our correspondence with school administration and the Andover School Committee regarding the educational goals of the district.”
As of the last day of school June 19, there were 65 students in this year’s kindergarten cohort at South Elementary. The district monitors enrollment throughout the summer as families move in and out of Andover before finalizing class assignments in August.
The school committee’s guidelines on class size are as follows:
- Pre-K & K: be at or below 20 students per class, and if not feasible, to within a range of 16 to 24.
- Grades 1 & 2: be at or below 23 students per class, and if not feasible, to within a range of 19 to 27.
- Grades 3-5: be at or below 25 students per class, and if not feasible, to within a range of 21 to 29.
- Grades 6-8: be at or below 25 students per class, and if not feasible, to within a range of 21 to 29.
- Grades 9-12: be at or below 25 students per class, and if not feasible, to within a range of 21 to 29 and an advisory group range of 15-17 students.
This year, elementary school class sizes averaged 20.1 students across the district, lower than the 20.8 students per class in 2019-20, before public school enrollment dropped across the state for two years during the coronavirus pandemic. The district’s 14-year average is 21.3 students per class, including a high of 23 students per class in 2015-16.
“Last June, the district actively planned and placed our children in overcrowded Kindergarten classes of 22 students because it was within the policy guidelines,” the parents wrote. “Now, as of June 12, 2023, the incoming first-graders’ class size is already at the maximum capacity of 23 and again the district has no active plan to prevent exceeding the maximum capacity to prevent overcrowding.”