The Macon County Board of Education voted to increase the number of teachers in the district to compensate for overcrowding in several elementary school classrooms. During its September meeting, the school board approved three new teaching positions and one teacher's assistant position for Iotla Valley and East Franklin Elementary schools.
The decision to hire additional staff comes after June's regularly scheduled meeting of the Macon County Board of Education, when Dan Moore, Director of Personnel for the school system, informed board members that Macon County was facing a serious overcrowding problem in several schools in the district.
According to Moore's report, four out of the six schools with kindergarten through third grade classrooms are not only exceeding the district's policy for maximum capacity, but where enrollment currently stands, are projected to exceed the state's maximum capacity numbers. At Cartoogechaye Elementary, the first and third grade class enrollment exceeds the state's allowed capacity; kindergarten through third grade classes at East Franklin and Iotla Valley; and kindergarten through second grade at South Macon. Highlands and Nantahala are the only schools in the district not faced with the issue.
Moore informed the board that the school district's objective (Macon County Schools Objective 2.2.2) states “Preservation of small class sizes at or below the state's average for K-3. Not only is Macon County not at or below the state's average, enrollment numbers exceed the state's maximum allowance.
The school board not only voted to approve additional teachers, which include two teachers and one assistant teacher at Iotla Valley and one teacher at East Franklin which has a first grade class exceeding the state maximum, but school officials also approved a split classroom at East Franklin to help fix the problem.
According to Moore, there will be four kindergarten classrooms at East Franklin, four first grade classrooms at East Franklin, and one K-1 “split” class. The split classroom has one teacher and is a combination of kindergartners and first graders. “At this point in time, the addition of teachers and the addition of one split classroom has solved the issue. As the population “shifts” throughout the county, other solutions may need to be sought as well. We will have to wait and see,” said Moore. “We will have to examine the student numbers “as they arrive.” it is difficult to predict at this point. In some grade levels, an increase in students would not be an issue; in other grade levels, it could prove to be more of an issue.”
Although the overcrowding problem is solved for now, Moore is certain that the school system will continue to examine class size numbers in order to ensure equitable distribution of teachers and staff with the best interest of the students in mind.
Parents at East Franklin have had mixed feelings about their child being placed in a split classroom. Sandy Tabor, who has a son in kindergarten at East Franklin, believes that it is a good thing.
“A letter was sent home with my son immediately following the Board of Education approval meeting the week of Aug. 27,” said Tabor. “I think many benefits will surface from this transition. I feel the first graders will be a positive influence on these kindergartners in the sense of the appropriate behavior needed when the teacher is talking, walking down the hall quietly, and other manners-based settings.”
Tabor also believes that in addition to the behavioral benefits her son will receive, it will also encourage and challenge him academically. “I am taking into consideration the opportunity being offered to my son and take advantage of being placed in a class that will continue to push him academically,” said Tabor. “Facing more academic challenges in the split classroom will be good for these kindergartners beyond a standard kindergarten class.”
Noting that ultimately the decision was left up to the parent whether or not they wanted their child moved to the split classroom Tabor said, “My decision had nothing to do with the my son’s kindergarten teacher’s abilities or curriculum basis – her intense knowledge, interest, and experience with the young children is amazing.”
When asked if she anticipated the split classroom would have any negative effects, Tabor stated that she couldn’t see any. “I wouldn’t consider it a negative effect; however, to begin the year, these children were placed in a classroom for the first week of school in which they created a relationship with their teacher and other classmates,” said Tabor. “My concern was the emotional bond of my child and the teacher that had already begun to form. East Franklin openly allowed me to speak to administrators directly, as well as Mrs. Rowland to get a better feel of what the class had to offer and to answer many of my questions. They also allowed the children to view the classroom to enable them to feel comfortable changing from what they had become accustomed to. I appreciated that.”
The school board plans to revisit the district's attendance policy which will mean that students will only be allowed to attend schools that are located in their community district.