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Fourth Westridge teacher added to lower class sizes

Decision shines a light on how LOSD deals with districtwide targets for student-teacher ratios

SUBMITTED PHOTO - In fall 2014, Westridge teacher Joan Croome's third- and fourth-grade blended class used numbered tiles to develop spatial intelligence. Many of her students will be in fifth grade this fall.Westridge Elementary School will add an additional fifth-grade teacher to its staff roster in the fall after projected class sizes hit the high end of the Lake Oswego School District’s target range for teacher-to-student ratios.

Parents voiced their concerns on social media and reached out to the district when early projections indicated that 93 students would be enrolled in Westridge’s three fifth-grade classes. The district uses target staffing ranges to decide how many teachers are needed per grade at each school; for fifth-grade classes, that ratio is one teacher for every 29-31 students.

On Monday afternoon, Principal Tin Kha sent an email to the Westridge community, announcing that a fourth teacher would be brought on board — much to parents’ relief, said Brian Madden, Westridge’s Parent Teacher Student Organization president. Madden told the Lake Oswego School Board at a meeting later that evening that parents are excited about the news.

“Four or five hours ago, I could have filled this room with angry parents,” Madden said. “I was able to send a great text message out to the families, telling them to leave their pitchforks and torches at home.”

HOWELLThe board does not make staffing decisions — that’s up to administrators at the school and in the central office. After listening to Superintendent Heather Beck’s report, which touched on class sizes, board member Sarah Howell said she wanted to make sure everyone was clear that the hiring of an additional teacher is just part of the process, not a response to a specific group’s request.

“So, just to confirm, you don’t make these decisions based on petitions or campaigns?” Howell asked Beck.

“No, no,” Beck responded.

“And the ratio we put out is not a cap?” Howell asked.

“The only thing that is capped is kindergarten,” Beck replied.

The district’s current teacher-to-student ratios were set during the recession, when they were increased by about two students per grade because of budgetary constraints. Kindergarten is capped at 26 students per teacher — expressed as a mathematical ratio, 1:26. Other elementary school target ratios are 1:25-27 for first and second grades, 1:28-30 for third and fourth grades, and 1:29-31 for fifth grade.

The target ratios are districtwide numbers, so they don’t necessarily reflect how many students a particular class in a specific school will have.

Class size is important for a child's education, board Chairwoman Liz Hartman told The Review this week, but so is the number of days a student is in school, the availability of extra help with core subjects and parent involvement. And having good teachers is the best predictor of student success, she said.

HARTMAN"Good teachers affect a student's future and their outlook on education — and the reverse can also be true," Hartman said. "Our district has great teachers. We trust the administration to hire good teachers and use resources as applicable to the makeup of each classroom to improve student success through educational achievement, one of our district goals."

When a particular school’s classes do start to reach the upper end of target ratios, principals and teachers determine whether they need a new teacher or more staff hours. Another option is to blend a class or two with classes in another grade level — creating a fourth- and fifth-grade combination, for example.

Brittany Weiler, a Lake Oswego Schools Foundation vice president, said that when student populations close in on target ratios, it can inspire adverse reactions. Some parents threatened to stop donating to the Foundation after finding out classes were filling up at Westridge, Weiler said. The nonprofit group donated $1.5 million to the school district, and the dollars already have been allocated for this school year to support teachers’ salaries.

“That money was spent on teachers,” said Weiler, also a Westridge parent. “If we had raised $700,000, we probably would have had some pink slips over the summer, and we would not have been able to retain teaching positions.”

The district has not had to resort to layoffs this school year.

School officials are quick to point out that the numbers can change between now and the first couple of weeks of school, because teacher and student populations are linked; when one rises, so does the other. Students still are registering for classes, which begin Aug. 31, but a more accurate enrollment count could be available as soon as Sept. 8.

BECKBeck said many districts don’t provide “any class-size relief” in the form of additional teachers until the official enrollment count in October. The district is trying to respond to changes responsibly, she said.

“This is also the time when we’ll see a lot of moving parts, because a lot of families are moving in and registering, and some of them are actually moving out,” she said.

A fluctuating school population because of families’ various life changes affects class and staffing sizes every year nationwide, Beck added. Vacillating class sizes is also an annual, late-summer situation in Lake Oswego, said John Wendland, a school board member.

“I appreciate the concern that was raised,” he said, “but every year, I’ve seen the same issues at every level.”

Also on Monday:

• The board voted 4-1 to replace the reader board at the Country Club Road entrance to Lake Oswego High School with an LED-powered sign that staff and administrators can program from the school office.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego High School staff and administrators currently change the school sign manually, but the disrtict is proposing to upgrade to a programmable LED sign. A farewell to longtime superintendent Bill Korach in 2014 is shown here.The district has not yet submitted a permit application to the city for the proposed sign at LOHS, because administrators wanted to make sure the board was supportive before spending money on permits, according to Randy Miller, the district’s executive director of project management. City approval will still be required to ensure compliance with the municipal sign code.

Board member Bob Barman said he is not opposed to a sign, but he voted against the project because he would have preferred to have the sign be approved by the city first and he believes the electronic sign will not meet code.

The current sign’s frame and post would be unchanged, but the interior section that displays messages would be converted to a wireless LED system. The project will cost about $22,000, which would be paid with LOHS Associated Student Body funds.

If the city does approve the sign upgrade, it could be completed before wintertime.

• The human resources report, which the board approved 5-0, included the resignations of Lake Oswego Junior High teacher Gail Anderson, Lake Oswego High School teacher John Freeman and LOSD school psychologist Miranda White, as well as the retirement of Lake Grove Elementary School secretary Becky Sheehy.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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For more information on Lake Oswego School District's class size ratios, visit the school district's website or call 503-534-2000.