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April 24, 2019

3/18/2019 8:45:00 AM
Iowa-Grant School Board holds meeting to consider appropriate class sizes
After a lengthy conversation and some compromises, the Iowa-Grant School Board unanimously decided more direct feedback was needed in regards to increasing class sizes. A collaborative meeting between the personnel committee, administration, and leadership team (consisting of numerous teachers in the district) will be held soon to further discuss the matter of increasing class sizes while utilizing teachers' talents differently whether it be as a math, reading, or technology interventionist...or maybe something else depending upon the teacher's prerogative. No jobs will be cut - everyone wants to keep the staff that is already in place.
The discussion started with a heartfelt message from Board President Renee Linscheid asking that this not tear the community apart as she felt like it is "driving a wedge between" everyone and said that the board was investigating increasing class sizes as a result from a community survey sent out previously that asked for improved student achievement. "We need to continue to work together," she said. "I want to do the best by our children." She went on to say that the matter isn't something the board takes lightly and they want to do it in a fiscally responsible approach. Furthermore, class sizes are reviewed by the board every year, and they tend to ebb and flow. Board members were unwilling to put a hard number of not to exceed down as students are so different and their needs are also different as well i.e. one section may be too big for multiple students with learning disabilities while one section may be just right for a number of students with only one or two students with learning disabilities.
"Class sizes are already tiny in some instances," stated Iowa-Grant Superintendent Stephanie Hubbard. "One is down to 11." In all the discussions staff, administration, and board members have had, they have never thought about increasing sections to over 18 students; according to research, 18 is the ideal number of students in a classroom. She went on to question if having only 11 students in a class was fiscally responsible. Moreover, she stated that teachers would only be put in roles that they are comfortable with - "how can we utilize the staff that we have? What's going to get us the most bang for our buck?", and that nothing is set in stone right now; however, pieces are beginning to fall in place and make a whole picture. While there was some dialogue in earlier meetings about hiring outright some of the interventionists wanted, it doesn't look like that will be a possibility as the federal budget is cutting funding for education.
A motion was then brought forth by Board Clerk Kristin Spurley to allow administration to evaluate the needs of each grade level, assigning proper teacher allocation which will also provide reading, math, and/or technology intervention. Board Vice-President Don Rider seconded the motion with Board Members Linscheid and Spurley for the motion and DiVall, Anderson, Zimmer, and Richards against. Zimmer initially voted no as she wanted more input from DiVall on what he would do differently. DiVall went on to explain that he wanted to teachers to be more involved in the process and talk with them "face-to-face." Additionally, he thought that personnel meetings should be held more regularly. After this motion failed and the discourse was had, Spurley called for another motion: to allow the personnel committee in conjunction with the leadership team and administration to evaluate the needs of each grade level, assigning proper teacher allocation. This was unanimously approved. A collective personnel, administrative, and leadership meeting will be held in the near future to discuss class sizes and changes. Their recommendation will then go back to the school board for a final approval.
Before this was approved, several members of the public spoke about their feelings/opinions on increased class sizes. Iowa-Grant School District Spanish Instructor Jacqueline Rolli helps with ESL (English as a Second Language) students, and she explained that there are a lot of Spanish-speaking students with IEPs; however, what isn't know is whether their learning is behind because of a language barrier or learning disability. She said that there is no bilingual support programs for these students and that Iowa-Grant Schools do only the minimum required by the state for them. These students will be at a disadvantage. Also, she stated that the high school staff has seen decreased hours for these pupils as their hours are going towards IGEMS as staff is shared. "The restructure needs a plan in place," she asserted.
JoAnne Marshall also spoke out against increasing class sizes as all the research she has read says they are the way to go; additionally, she "was shocked" to hear about the lack of intervention programs. She worked with at-risk kids who needed help with reading. "Class sizes need to be small, and interventionists are needed for at-risk kids," she said. "How will you deal with teacher morale? Will you involve parents more?"
Nate Freymiller questioned whether or not the class size numbers previously discussed were set in stone as he thinks they should be, and he wanted to know what the results of a survey sent to teachers about increasing class sizes were.
In other business:
• The board approved, 5-2 with Anderson and Rider against, the creation of a track team for the 2019-20 school year. The plan is to start small and get bigger if needed - do similar to what the middle school track team is doing now. Cost is unknown, but the board thinks expenses can be kept down as the school doesn't have to go all out at the moment. Most board members agreed that there was enough interest to warrant taking it a step further with around 45 students saying that yes or maybe they'd go out for track if it was offered.
• Next year's school calendar was approved. "It was a collaborative effort," stated Hubbard. "Three hundred nineteen people responded to the calendar survey." The calendar meets all the state requirements for pupil contact days and teacher days. There are numerous changes from last year's calendar including early releases on Fridays at 2 p.m. for professional development, no morning parent/teacher conferences, matching spring break to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's one, and switching 4K to Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday - to name a few highlights.
• In her administrative report to the board, Principal Robyn Oberfoell shared that a survey regarding bullying went out to students. Eighty-four percent of students reported that they'd never been bullied; however of those that were bullied, 27 percent didn't tell anyone, 31 percent told a friend/classmate, and 24 percent told an adult at home. "This shows that they're not telling us here at school," Oberfoell said. The bullying reporting issue is going to be further addressed by staff.
• Donations were approved with gratitude: $821 for Panther Packs and $30 for IGEMS projects.
• Two retirements were passed with gratitude: special education assistant Mary Coyier and third grade instructor Debbie Moen. Both have been with the district for 29 years in various roles.
• The payment of monthly bills and the monthly finance report were approved.
• The board tabled several items including considering NEOLA's services for updating board policies, approval of ECCP and Start College Now program applications, and approval of retroactive use of sick time for support staff time lost due to severe weather.
The next regularly scheduled Iowa-Grant School Board meeting is Monday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m.

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