Schenectady’s kindergartens are bursting at the seams.
There are so many kindergartners this year that many classrooms have maxed out at 25 children. Last year, the average classroom had 22 kindergartners.
In some classrooms, there are so many 5-year-olds that they don’t all fit on the rug for reading. Luckily, many of them are willing to squeeze close to each other, or sit on the floor next to the rug.
Schenectady’s kindergartens won’t go above 25 students, Superintendent Laurence Spring said. If more students arrive, he will add more classes, taught by teachers who are now coaching and mentoring other teachers.
“It would certainly be a sacrifice,” he said. “But you’ve got to make sure you have a teacher in front of the kids.”
The district is also running out of room. Howe Early Childhood Center is full, Spring said. There’s a “little bit” of space at Fulton Early Childhood Center, which is where any new kindergarten sections would be placed. The elementary schools are full.
“To some degree you want to pay attention to what the transportation pattern is,” he said.
But with so little space available, “you’d just have to put them where you can put them.”
There are 100 more students in the school district this year, about 20 of whom are kindergartners, Spring said. Last year the district also saw a spike in kindergartners, and population estimates have suggested the influx will continue.
Research has shown that young children do better if they are in classes of fewer than 17 students. Spring said that goal was admirable — but just not possible in Schenectady.
“It’s really where we are economically,” he said. “It really means dramatically increasing the [number of] classes and the classrooms. That’s not something we can do.”
In Schenectady, if a kindergarten class has fewer than 21 students, officials analyze the figures to see whether those students can be put elsewhere to eliminate the class.
There’s one kindergarten class of 20 in the school district this year.
But none of the classes have more than 25 students.
“If it gets over 25, that’s when it becomes difficult to manage the schedules and routines,” Spring said. “Twenty-five kids is manageable. There’s nothing to be concerned about.”
The enrollment increase is new for Schenectady. The most recent data it reported to the state showed an average class size of 21 for students in grades 1 through 6. That will likely increase in future years if the kindergartners stay in the school system.
It has some officials concerned.
“Class size does matter,” said New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn. “The smaller the class size, the more time and attention the teacher can give every student. Research shows that when class sizes are smaller, student achievement is higher, especially when students are vulnerable.”
Many of Schenectady’s students count as “vulnerable” — living in poverty is a major factor.
However, Korn noted that he can’t say children in a class of 25 students will do worse than a class of 21 students.
“I don’t know that there’s a magic number,” he said.
On the other hand, at least kindergarten is still being offered, said state School Boards Association spokesman David Albert.
He noted that kindergarten isn’t required — and that some school districts have talked about cutting it.
“It’s an accomplishment just to maintain a kindergarten,” he said. “I’m certain that everyone would like to have class sizes as low as they can, but at the end of the day, districts have been laying off teachers.”
He added that he doesn’t expect Schenectady to ever cut its kindergarten.
“Districts realize how critical early childhood education is,” he said. “But I do expect to see larger class sizes, simply because the districts don’t have the funding.”