Elementary classes doubling into one room to meet new class size requirements

Updated: Sep. 5, 2017 at 5:53 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Two teachers and two classes of elementary students, sharing a single classroom. New state class size limits are forcing already overcrowded elementary schools to get even more creative utilizing their space to comply with the mandates.

At Wilmington's Parsley Elementary School, they are literally doubling up in single classrooms. Six first and second grade classes are sharing three classrooms at Parsley to comply with the new limit of 20 students per class.

Even in tight quarters, Parsley students were on their best behavior in class Tuesday. There are 37 second-graders in the oversized former art room. The room was repurposed this year when the school quite literally ran out of traditional classrooms under new class size limits set by the state. They needed 33, but only had 29 classrooms.

"A smaller number of children per adult is a great thing for children and for children's learning, but I also realize that is not the way we have constructed our public schools," Principal Robin Hamilton said of the challenges of complying with the new reduced class size requirements. "So we do need some time to be able to catch up, and to make that work."

Because there are two certified teachers sharing the former art room, it is technically considered two different classes of students.

The school got rid of the desks in favor of space saving tables the children share to make the space work. The teachers work on lesson plans together, and take turns teaching and pulling kids aside who need extra help.

Some of the "team teachers" have been surprised to find they like this new arrangement, or even prefer it.

"I want to keep this," said second-grade teacher and 20-year teaching veteran Lisa Traflet. "I love this, because like I said, I think we can meet their needs better, and in the past, it's just been me in the classroom, or I may have an assistant that's in and out of the classroom. This year, I always have a colleague with me and we help one another."

After some initial anxiety, parents said things seem to be going well this year in the doubled up classrooms.

"[The teachers] are excited and positive about it – which helps make the students and parents be excited and positive too," second grade parent Nanci Boldizar said. "While it is a paradigm shift for me to think of my child in a setting somewhat different from a traditional classroom, there are many benefits to the double class. My daughter is coming home happy."

Parents and school staff also said they were sad to lose their computer lab, their music room, and their art room due to the classroom shuffling. The art teacher is now relegated to a cart that she pushes around from class to class.

The space issues have also brought redistricting concerns to the surface again, with parents complaining that some of the overcrowding could be relieved by rezoning students to other schools. Parsley is one of 14 significantly overcrowded elementary schools in the county, and more people are moving here everyday.

New Hanover County Schools says a comprehensive redistricting is still about two years away, but the superintendent has the authority to do more limited redistricting on an as-needed basis if that became absolutely necessary due to overcrowding.

Other significantly overcrowded schools in the district include Anderson Elementary, Bellamy Elementary, Bradley Creek Elementary, Carolina Beach Elementary, Castle Hayne Elementary, Codington Elementary, Eaton Elementary, Holly Tree Elementary, Murrayville Elementary, Ogden Elementary, Parsley Elementary, Pine Valley Elementary, Sunset Park Elementary, Williams Elementary, and Wrightsville Beach Elementary.

Each of these elementary schools is over capacity by more than 50 students.

Next year, things could get even tighter as maximum class sizes are further reduced. Kindergarten classes will be capped at 18 students, first-grade classes capped at 15, and second and third-grade classes capped at 17. There is no cap on the upper elementary grades, and in some schools with limited teaching resources, that has already resulted in fourth and fifth-grade classes with more than 30 kids per teacher.

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