School closure means bigger class sizes

It’s pretty simple arithmetic: The Seaside School District minus Cannon Beach Elementary School equals bigger classes at Seaside Heights Elementary.

But when Seaside School District officials shut the doors on Cannon Beach Elementary earlier this year, even they didn’t have a 35-student third grade classroom in mind.

Several Cannon Beach Elementary parents voiced their concerns at a September school board meeting, and board member Nancy Hauger heard them loud and clear.

“As a former teacher, I can’t imagine teaching 35 kids,” Hauger said. Hauger noted that the most students she ever taught was 27 and, as she put it, “I thought I was going to die.”

Linda Majors’ daughter, Torry, attended Cannon Beach Elementary last year, where she was in a combined first and second grade class that had about 23 students. This year, she’s in Luke Miller’s third grade class, along with 34 other students.

“It’s challenging to say the least,” Majors said. “It’s overwhelming for my daughter, going from such a small school to such a large school.”

“With this transition, it’s been really, really tough,” said Stephanie Snyder, whose daughter, Kaylee, was in Miller’s class last year and again this year. “It’s a lot of kids to have to manage.”

Doug Dougherty, the district’s superintendent, acknowledged the Seaside Heights problem at the same school board meeting.

“We are not pleased with the class size either,” he said. “We’ve had discussions, we’ve talked about options. … There might be options and hopefully we’ll pursue those.”

Now, a month later, Seaside Heights Principal Sande Brown has enacted changes that she thinks can help ameliorate the class size problem.

“We have really small second grade classes, (and) the second graders have supported reading time the same time as the third grade,” Brown said. “Reading is the most important part of the day. … I reallocated where the teaching assistants go during that time.”

The reallocation will allow students to be divided “into smaller groups and more at the level of kids they’d like to be,” Brown said.

Miller also made the move to Seaside Heights from Cannon Beach Elementary, where he taught for seven years before its closure.

“For me it’s all new and different,” he said in an email. “Last year I was teaching at the small community school of Cannon Beach with 22 students.

Now I am teaching at the big school of Seaside Heights Elementary with 35 students.

“When people ask about it, I tell them it’s like going from living in the country to living in the big city.”

Though Miller acknowledges that 35 students is certainly a formidable class size, he believes that, when it comes down to it, his job remains the same.

“Kids are kids no matter how many there are,” he said. “They all work hard, they all want to learn and they all love to have fun, so that is what we do each day.”

Parents agree that, despite the difficulties of a large class, Miller manages his students deftly.

“Mr. Miller has pretty good control of the kids,” Majors said. “He’s an excellent teacher.”

Miller finds that the difficulties of a large class manifest themselves less during instruction and more between activities.

“The hardest thing is transition time – moving from one thing to the next,” he said. “Everything takes time.”

Miller spoke about his class from his classroom on a recent morning, as his students settled into their reading groups.

Smaller reading groups are possible because of the reallocated teaching assistants, Molly Filori and Lindy Cockcroft, and parent volunteers like Majors, Snyder and other third-grade moms and dads.

Majors volunteers for an hour each Wednesday, usually leading a group of five or six students as they take turns reading from that week’s text.

“I have them take turns reading a page,” she said. “We go around in a circle and discuss it at the end.”

Like many of the moms and dads, Majors believes that more involved parents are an important ingredient in aiding Miller and his aides.

“As a parent, I’m urging my friends to help in the classroom,” she said.

Miller divides his class into six reading groups, each of which is named after a professional football team, and they spend their reading time in 20-minute increments: the Bears read with Miller, the Lions with Majors, the Falcons with Filori, the Panthers with Cockcroft, the Eagles read on their own and the Ravens listen to an audiobook and follow along – then they switch.

Miller has emphasized developing strong reading skills all year.

“We really work hard on self-reading,” Miller said. “We’re proactive the first three weeks to try and build stamina.”

Xander Abby, 8, had his nose buried in the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book – reading time is Abby’s favorite time of day, and the large class did not seem to bother him at all.

Abby’s family recently moved to the North Coast from Boise, Idaho; he said he likes it in Seaside.

“There’s a lot more stuff to do here,” said Abby, who likes going to the beach. “There’s no beach at Idaho.”

Alexis Martinez, 8, was also intently reading a few desks away from Abby. Alexis, who attended Seaside Heights last year, has noticed a difference between this year and last.

“There’s more kids and there’s more groups,” he said. But he’s not sweating school.

“It’s kind of easy,” Alexis said.

The Seaside Signal, 10.29.13. Link: http://goo.gl/oajfGR

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