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Kindergarten numbers surge at Madras Primary

Board opts to hire another teacher
An unexpected surge of kindergarteners in the district had 509-J board members considering whether to hire an additional teacher.
   Over 20 Madras Primary teachers and some parents attended the Sept. 12 meeting to voice their opinions.
   Superintendent Rick Molitor reported there was a concern at Madras Primary, where there were 138 kindergarteners enrolled in five classrooms. "The Christian school closed down, and that may be one reason," he said.
   Enrollment predictions had projected Madras Primary would have average class sizes of 23 students. But with the surge, kindergarten classes, which start this week, would be averaging 27 to 28 per class.
   First grade has an average of 24 per class, and second grade has 20-21 per class.
   "Enrollment at Metolius Elementary is also the largest it has been. Twenty students transferred to Metolius," Molitor said. But even so, Metolius kindergarten classes were averaging 26 per class -- less than Madras Primary.
   Saying it would be chancy to take money from the district's contingency fund, Molitor recommended moving a second grade teacher to the kindergarten level instead of hiring another teacher.
   That would bring kindergarten classes to 23 students, first grade to 24 students, and second grade to 26 students.
   "It's not an easy decision; it completely disrupts school for the first week. But it's the best one with the financial considerations," Molitor said.
   He suggested two additional education assistants be hired for Metolius, at a cost of $30,000, and told board members an extra teacher would cost approximately $80,000 (with fringe benefits).
   Board member Lyle Rehwinkel stated, "We've got to look at the money, but there's also a `right' thing to do. We're moving forward now, and I think the right thing is to hire a new teacher and possibly two educational assistants, too. Next year, we will have to re-evaluate."
   Madras Primary teacher Megan Vibbert and others spoke in favor of hiring another teacher. She and Sara Hertel job share, teaching one second grade class. They are the teachers that would be moved under Molitor's plan, she noted.
   Vibbert's main concern was about student reading progress. "Our reading group of 27 kids has the highest benchmark level," she said, noting changing teachers around would affect the whole second grade teaching team.
   "I don't want to sacrifice one grade level for another," Vibbert said, admitting, "Twenty-eight students is not acceptable for kindergarten; then it becomes just daycare."
   Teacher Billie White said, "(Second grade) math groups are about to start. With five more kids in my class it will be managing, not teaching. And 28 kindergarteners in a classroom -- I can't imagine. We're making great strides and I think that would set us back."
   Teacher Margie Long said, "We made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and have made tremendous gains. We have a forward momentum going and I'd like to see that continue."
   Parent Loren Dunten noted, "If teachers start managing instead of instructing it will mean a setback all down the line of grades."
   Shawn Thorpe, the parent of both a kindergartener and second-grader, urged the board not to move students around at Madras Primary.
   He noted he was a logger, truck driver and high school dropout, and didn't want his kids to have to work as hard as he does.
   "My daughter is excited to go to school every morning ... If you can get (students) to love school in kindergarten, third and fourth grade, then when they get to high school they're on fire," Thorpe said.
   "We moved to Madras because of the small class sizes and schools that loved and cared for kids," Thorpe said.
   Board member Stan Sullivan said he was comfortable with hiring an additional kindergarten teacher.
   Board chairman Brad Holliday said, "It's a balance between what we need now and next year. Hiring now means we can't hire two people next year, but I think it's the right thing to do."
   To a round of applause from the audience, the board unanimously voted to hire an additional kindergarten teacher for Madras Primary and two educational assistants for Metolius Elementary, with the approximately $120,000 in funds coming out of the contingency fund.