Parents and administrators at Orange Elementary Schools are keeping a close eye on growing class sizes, particularly at Race Brook School, where as many as 24-25 students may occupy a classroom this fall. In late June, there were four classes that administration was keeping an eye on and at that time, Superintendent of Schools Vince Scarpetti said that if kindergarten enrollment remained at 150, he would consider moving one teacher from kindergarten to another section.
“We are making sure we have funds available in case we need to hire another teacher,” he said. “That said, there is also no question in my mind that our teachers can handle 24-25 students.”
First Selectman Jim Zeoli said an uptick in new families moving to town is behind the student growth. “The Board of Education is scrambling with a changing of home ownerships. Houses are selling faster than the signs can go up and people are moving here from all over – with children,” he told the Board of Selectmen at their August meeting.
“Usually in June, they know where the numbers were going to become September. There’s always a little influx over the summer, but we’ve had a tremendous influx with house sales this summer,” Zeoli said. “Right now, we have some very big classes by today’s standards and the Board of Education and superintendent are trying to solve these issues with classes with 24-26 kids.”
Two Race Brook parents appealed to the Board of Education at its monthly meeting on August 16. Aniko Bezur has an incoming fourth grader and requested a teacher be added to alleviate growing class sizes, nothing that the school’s current plan to have three teachers at that grade level bring class sizes up to over 22 children while all other grades have class sizes below 20 students. “We know that the Town of Orange can find the resources to hire the best faculty available and that our high-quality schools will attract the strongest candidates,” she said, asking administration to take steps to add an additional fourth grade class to reduce the number of children per classroom.
“Smaller class sizes will allow teachers to better address the educational needs of students at different levels of achievement on the learning spectrum. This is particularly relevant as we start another school year that is likely to be impacted by the pandemic, she said, adding, “Smaller class sizes will allow teachers to help students better navigate uncertainties that come with the pandemic and stresses that this has brought on. Smaller class sizes will also mean greater physical distancing between children who remain unvaccinated against the corona virus.”
Theresa Fitol, another fourth-grade parent at Race Brook School is also concerned about crowded classrooms. When her two high school children came through Race Brook, they typically had fewer than 20 kids per class.
“With social distancing and all of the changes that these kids have gone through, having an exceptionally large class size is going to be too much for the fourth graders and for the teachers. My neighborhood alone has four houses for sale. If we have to add another teacher mid-school year, this will cause even more anxiety for the children. We moved to Orange specifically for the class sizes and the education,” Fitol said.
Since the schools are operating under circumstances that are not typical and spatial constraints may become an issue, Scarpetti plans to reach out to Orange Health Director Amir Mohammad for additional guidance based on parental concerns.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent