Classroom sizes too big, say Grande Prairie parents

Parents brought their concerns about class sizes to Grande Prairie Public School’s Dec. 13 regular trustee board meeting.

Dustin Archibald, a concerned parent, said more than 50 per cent of the classes in GPPSD had over 24 students. He said the optimal size is approximately 18, according to his research.

According to the Annual Class Size report from GPPSD, 50 per cent of classes between Grades 4 and 9 range in size from 25 to 32 students; 40 per cent have under 24; and 10 per cent have over 32 students.

The report also says that for kindergarten to Grade 3 (including Grade 3/4 split classes) 58 per cent have 18- 24 students, 26 per cent have over 25, and 16 per cent have under 17.

Archibald says as class sizes increase, so do disruptions, leading to a loss of learning for students.

“In my son's classroom, there are 24 students, and when that happens, he's reported to me often that there's disruptions that the teacher can't see right away because there's just too many students for her to be able to manage,” Archibald told trustees on Dec. 13.

The Alberta Teachers Association’s (ATA) Fall 2022 report on class size says 64 per cent of teachers in the province have seen an increase in class size this school year.

The ATA also noted the Alberta Commission on Learning Recommendations from 2003 indicated the suggested average class sizes for Kindergarten-Grade 3 is 17 students, Grades 4-6 is 23, and 25 for Grades 7-9.

Nicole Sherk volunteers twice a week in a Grade 5 classroom that currently has 38 students, one teacher and no educational assistants, she said.

“We are concerned for the students subjected to such a massive class size, but we are also concerned for this teacher; surely this will burn her out, despite her expertise and passion,” said Sherk.

The ATA also noted in its report that 56 per cent of teachers state a decline in support for students with special needs.

Sherk was told by the school's principal they were planning to hire a teacher to assist in literacy and numeracy instruction.

Sherk said a part-time teacher has been hired to address literacy and numeracy instruction, but she believes it should have been full-time.

“We tried to build the most effective class sizes we can with the resources we have, based on local knowledge,” said Sandy McDonald, GPPSD superintendent.

He explained that when the school budget is made in the spring, staff are allocated to classrooms, and then in the fall school administrators need to react in the first three days of classes as more - or less - students arrive.

He said the division had more than 300 students it wasn’t expecting this school year, which required them to begin hiring more staff immediately.

“Class size matters,” said McDonald, noting that as of fall 2019 GPPSD was no longer required to report on class sizes after Alberta Education removed the requirement.

He noted the allocation of staff is set through various formulas, which include a multitude of factors including enrollment, the allocation for learning supports, and teacher allocations for administrative assistants.

McDonald said adding 15 teachers to the Kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms to reduce 25-student classrooms would add an additional $1.6 million to the division's budget.

He also noted that an issue facing the division are labour shortages, faced by many industries nationwide.

Here in Grande Prairie, parents were looking for the board to take action on reducing classroom sizes.

Trustee Ray Buziak made a motion to direct the policy review committee to create class size guidelines for possible inclusion in board policy in consultation with senior administration.

The motion was defeated, with only Buziak voting in favour.

“I think that the way the board can affect class size is at budget,” said Joan Nellis, GPPSD chair.

“I would hate to take away the management rights to manage in that particular case.”

Sherk suggested board members could begin volunteering in the classroom.

Peace Wapiti Public School Division said it no longer performs annual class size reports after the province dropped the requirement to do so.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools did not respond to Town & Country News before publication time.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News