Smaller class sizes begin at Woodland district schools

 
 
Updated 8/22/2018 7:54 PM
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  • Woodland Intermediate School's new principal, Derek Straight, plays a name game with third-grade dual language students in an art class Wednesday in Gurnee. It was the first day of classes in Woodland Elementary District 50.

      Woodland Intermediate School's new principal, Derek Straight, plays a name game with third-grade dual language students in an art class Wednesday in Gurnee. It was the first day of classes in Woodland Elementary District 50. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Woodland Intermediate School art teacher Marilyn Simons chats with third-grade dual language students Wednesday during first day of classes at the Gurnee school.

      Woodland Intermediate School art teacher Marilyn Simons chats with third-grade dual language students Wednesday during first day of classes at the Gurnee school. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

When students in Woodland Elementary District 50 met their new classmates Wednesday, they likely had to learn fewer names than in the past.

The district rolled out new, smaller class size guidelines this school year in an effort to improve education quality for students.

"One of the most essential factors is the relationship between students and teachers," Superintendent Joy A. Swoboda said. "This affords teachers more time to have personal connections with children."

The district's previous class size guidelines called for 25 or fewer students in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and 28 or fewer in fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms.

Now, the goal is for kindergarten classrooms to have 15 to 18 students and for first- through third-grade classrooms to have 18 to 21 students. Fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms are to have 21 to 24 students.

The school board voted to adopt the new class size guidelines in September 2017. At that time, it appeared the district would need to hire 48 new teachers and part-time staffers to accommodate the new guidelines at an expected cost of around $2.5 million.

Swoboda said the new class sizes are going to cost closer to $1.7 million this year because seventh- and eighth grade classrooms won't be included. The district staff decided it wouldn't be fiscally prudent to create more sections because a few seventh- and eight-grade classes were barely over the guidelines.

The class size goals will include seventh-grade classes next school year and will be implemented districtwide the following year.

Longtime school board member Terry Hall voted against the plan last year, arguing it hadn't been studied enough. Hall now supports the measure.

"The board decided to go forward with it, and since we're going forward with it, I fully support this experiment," Hall said Wednesday. "I hope it accomplishes what my colleagues tell me it will."

Hall said she doesn't entirely agree with the theory that a smaller class size is always better but added it is an idea worth testing.

"This argument has been around a long time, so let's see," Hall said. "It's great that we're going to have a chance to find out."

Swoboda said officials will survey the district community several times during the school year and review student performance data to get a sense of how the plan is working.

"Like any initiative and like any investment, we want to be accountable," Swoboda said.

District 50 serves around 5,700 students from Gages Lake, Wildwood and parts of Gurnee, Grayslake, Park City, Third Lake, Old Mill Creek, Wadsworth, Lindenhurst and Waukegan.

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