Gym Class Size at Issue

    Differences of opinion were predominant about having 94 kindergartners in the gym at one time when the Springs School Board met on Monday for the first time since school opened.
    Mark McKee, who recently retired as the school’s athletic director but is continuing on as a physical education teacher, started the discussion off. “I’m very upset about the sizes of the phys- ed classes,” he told the board. “I’ve been here 26 years, and they are larger than they have been in any year.”
    Because of scheduling changes and the reduction of one physical education teacher, the kindergarten classes,  totaling 94 children, take gym at the same time.
    “I don’t think 90 kids in a gym class is safe,” Mr. McKee said. “And I don’t think it’s productive. It’s not educationally sound. Please look into changing the class sizes.”
    “This is a discussion for the athletic department and the administration,” Kathee Burke Gonzalez, the school board president, said. “It’s too early to bring it before the board.” Saying “this is day four,” she suggested that there were bound to be creative changes to assigned class sizes.
    But Michael Hartner, the district superintendent, wasn’t ready to find fault. “With those 90 kids,” Mr. Hartner said, “there are six adults. That’s 15 kids to one adult. Anywhere else in the country, that would be considered a reasonable and rich ratio.” He added that such decisions were not surprises since they had been discussed during budget workshops in the spring.
    “It’s just too early to make changes,” he said. “We have to make decisions that best benefit the district, not to benefit a particular department.”
    Mr. McKee was not mollified. “It’s 15 to 1,” he said. “But there’s only one instructor. The rest are teaching assistants.”
    Mr. Hartner stood his ground. He had observed the kindergarten gym class, he said. “With tiny 5 and 6-year-olds in a space this big, my initial reaction was that not all the classes were here.” There are four kindergarten sections. “But,” he added, “90 is a big number.”
    “And 75 in the first grade,” said Mr. McKee. Although he said he was still frustrated, he was encouraged by the feedback. “Hopefully we can come up with some solutions.”
    Michelle Grant, a school parent, was still concerned. “It’s not just a matter of space,” she said. “How can an instructor get to know the students well enough to recognize which kids may need extra physical help? This sounds so unsafe and unproductive for the kids. I wish you would reconsider this. They could be the greatest coaches in the world, but 90 kids in a gym at the same time — it just sounds unsafe.”
    Mr. Hartner compared the class size to indoor recess, which is also held in the gym. “You can have 150 to 170 kids in here all together. With four trained bus drivers. It works both space-wise and it’s safe,” he said.
    “Well, what determines if it’s not working,” Ms. Grant asked. “An injury?”
    Tracey Frazier, a teacher, parent, and the wife of Tim Frazier, a school board member, who had said earlier that the issue was about space rather than staffing, spoke again. “Gym is not recess, Recess is social. Gym is instructional,” she said.
    John Foster, who was a gym teacher last year and is now teaching family and consumer science and a health class, thought the matter was of “absolute concern. It’s a no-brainer. There are three classes when the gym is empty. Why not break up those classes?”
    When reached for comment the next day, Mr. Hartner said there was no safety issue. “The staff is deployed in a manner which we think is best for the district — to get the most out of their skills — so we have to give it every opportunity to work, instead of giving it up after a couple of classes.”
    When Eric Casale, the school principal, told the board about new courses for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students, the kindergarten gym class also came up.
    Mr. Casale said those grades were now offered double periods in visual arts and music, a studio art class had been added for grades seven and eight, along with English language arts through film, and a course in contemporary law and public speaking for eighth graders.
    Mary Jane Arceri, a special education teacher, had the final word on the subject. “I heard additional art, film classes, the addition of a FACS [family and consumer science] class, law, all for the older students,” she said. “And I hear 94 kindergartners in a gym class. There seems to be a little bit of an unbalance here.”
    “I love that we are doing this for the junior high, but I feel like the younger grades are being shortchanged,” she said.
    In other changes this year, two kindergarten classes are being held in the Springs Youth Association building, with 692 students compared to 682 last year.
    “There are more students in first grade, but fewer in the other grades,” Ms. Burke Gonzalez said.
    There have also been changes to the vehicle traffic patterns around the school, and the gym and library have new roofs.