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Class size concerns rise in Pasco County schools

Teachers and students complain about the use of school averages, saying they ignore real crowding.
A Fivay High School student made a video depicting classroom crowding in the school at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. [Fivay High YouTube channel]
Published Oct. 12, 2018

Reacting to cramped and crowded classrooms, a Fivay High School student created a 5-minute video depicting the situation and urging Pasco County communities to "take action."

The video, which aired in the school news report and is posted on the school YouTube channel, gets some facts wrong. The state hasn't found the school district in violation of the 2002 class size amendment, and the district has not paid fines relating to class size. It also shows a full classroom with two teachers, indicating a co-teaching arrangement allowed by law to meet the mandate.

But it highlights a rising concern among a growing number of Pasco students and educators, who have shared the clip across social media.

The district's use of school-wide averages to calculate class size — a legal method under the state's "schools of choice" law — has created situations that many argue undermines the goal of smaller classes for improved teaching and learning. Districts, which generally have opposed the strictest interpretations of the class size amendment because of logistical difficulties, take advantage of the provision to save money.

"Our district says we are in compliance with a 'school wide average,' but that is a joke because it factors in co-teachers and support facilitators, plus all of the teachers in self-contained units in the average," Rushe Middle teacher Lori Lovetere said via Facebook. "Class size best practices for middle school is 22, and I have classes that are 33, 32 and 27. Incredibly challenging and not best practices for kids."

Fivay's situation arose primarily because it absorbed nearly 500 students from Ridgewood High, which is converted into a magnet technical school, but did not hire enough teachers to meet the need. Some advertised positions went without applicants.

The administration has since hired instructors for most of the slots, while also working to get classes covered by current teachers rather than substitutes when possible. No one is blaming the principal, who by all accounts has worked nonstop to support staff and students.

But some students went without permanent teachers and consistent instruction for close to a quarter, which put them behind in key courses such as algebra. Meanwhile, some teachers had class counts of 40 or more.

"One of my friends is over 160 students in five sections of math," said teacher Amy Stagner, who reported one of her Algebra 2 classes at 35 students . "It's crazy."

Trying to manage such a large class while also teaching it is "almost insane," Stagner said. "We know kids don't learn that well in a room that's that full. My attention is constantly being distracted by behavioral issues."

Related coverage: Pasco schools seek class size solutions 

The United School Employees of Pasco leadership has urged the School Board to direct more teachers into the classrooms, even if it means temporarily taking some away from their jobs of coaching other teachers.

USEP member representative Val Smith shared the Fivay video on Facebook, and suggested the price being paid is too high.

Typically, classroom crowding like this results from A) unfilled teacher vacancies, B) decisions made to create and...

Posted by Val Smith on Sunday, October 7, 2018

School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley didn't disagree. She said she had asked district officials why Fivay ended up with too few teachers, despite being promised increased attention for taking in much of Ridgewood.

She acknowledged such factors as a shortage of teachers nationally — especially in high demand fields such as math. But Crumbley said the district would seek some ways to get more non-classroom teachers back into classrooms wherever feasible.

"It's not going unnoticed," she said.