West York hires subs to address ballooning kindergarten class size

York County Literacy Council conducted assemblies in schools to promote reading and its Buck A Book program. The presentations included Digger Dog, who teaches natural gas safety issues for Columbia Gas. Pictured are Russell Bedell, of Columbia Gas, and Digger Dog with students at Charles B. Wallace Elementary School.

The West York Area school board on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire two long-term substitutes to address growing kindergarten class sizes. Board members Donald Carl and George Margetas were absent.

Kindergarten enrollment had spiked dramatically since August in West York Area School District, leaving district officials debating whether to hire new teachers in the middle of the school year.

The district went from having 165 students enrolled in kindergarten Aug. 1 to 221 students enrolled as of Dec. 3, putting class sizes far beyond district recommendations.

"We have to figure out why that occurred," board member Douglas Hoover said, advising that the district might have to do something different to get a better handle on how many new students might be entering the district next year. 

The subs approved Tuesday, Dec. 10, would be shared with each of the nine existing kindergarten teachers for an allotted time every day, with a focus on boosting literacy.

Board member Brandy Shope suggested the classes with greater sizes get more time with the subs, and board Vice President Jeanne Herman said teachers should be consulted first on where there’s the greatest need because they are the "experts."

West York has an an administrative "rule of 25," meaning ideally there should be no more than 25 students in each class. Now it has one class with 26 students, five with 25, one with 24 and two with 23.

The National Education Association has touted the benefits of smaller class sizes on achievement and graduation rates, citing research that shows its importance, especially in earlier grades.

In 2008, the NEA recommended a class size of 15 students, but recent NEA reporting noted some districts are finding it too expensive to reduce class sizes with more hires.

Board member Todd Gettys suggested that if class size is so important, the district should just go back to half-day kindergarten to reduce classes to about 15 students.

But board President Suzanne Smith said the district should not trade the potential success of full-day kindergarten for something that worked "OK."

"One thing that was very consistent and constant was the cry for full-day kindergarten," she said of comments from district residents.

Keeping class sizes down has been a regular discussion in districts including York Suburban and Northeastern that have seen growing enrollment. 

More:York Suburban board balks at pricey growth plan

More:Northeastern population shift means reshuffling of elementary students

And with enrollment being affected by students moving in and out of West York, a new full-day kindergarten program, and special needs students shifting to other classes, it's hard to predict how many teachers the district needs by Aug. 1.

Upon polling other York County superintendents, West York Superintendent Todd Davies found it’s common for kindergarten enrollment to shift, and classes in those districts range from 15 to 30.

Eight districts had class sizes of fewer than 20 kindergartners this year, and five had greater than or equal to 23. Most want fewer than 23 students in K-2 classes.

Herman had supported the idea of hiring a new teacher who would be able to give more individualized attention to students, noting the district had the fund balance to do it.

More:West York district board keeps outspoken Herman as VP

But Shope, Gettys and Jonathan Hoffman — principal of Wallace Elementary, which houses all of the district's kindergarten students — had been concerned about the mid-year disruption to students who were happy with their placements.

"It’s a concern that we have," Hoffman said. "They would be pulled from some strong relationships they’ve already made."

And Davies and board member Lynn Kohler had said that would not necessarily be a fix-all for concerns such as disciplinary disruptions in the classroom.

Carl had suggested the idea of a co-teacher to avoid pulling students from classes.

The board ultimately on Tuesday, Dec. 10, went with that recommendation in the form of long-term subs, and Davies said the administration would also update regulations to require a cap of 23 students in K-1 next year and no fewer than 10 teachers in each grade.

If class size breached that number, the remaining students would go into one class with a co-teacher, and if it reached more than 28, that class would be split into two — a model Davies said was successful in a previous district he served.

More:West York district raises salaries for teachers in new contract

The cost impact per long-term sub would be about $41,000 in salaries and benefits, and about $9,000 for teaching materials, Davies said. 

West York officials plan to hire the new subs in January.