District 303 places 25-student cap on kindergarten, first-grade classes
The maximum size of kindergarten and first-grade classes in St. Charles Unit District 303 will shrink from 27 to 25 students next academic year.
The school board unanimously approved the change this week, hoping to ensure young students receive more one-on-one time with teachers and build a strong educational foundation early. District parents also have expressed a desire for smaller class sizes at the lower grade levels -- a move board President Carolyn Waibel called an "investment into their future."
"This reflects us listening to the community's needs and the needs of our littles, who we also want to make sure get that personal attention," she said.
The district reduced maximum class sizes from 29 to 27 for all elementary grades in 2018-19, at which point new attendance boundaries also took effect.
Setting a 25-student cap for kindergarten and first grade is expected to cost the district an additional $270,000 annually, administrators said. Though enrollment numbers aren't finalized for 2020-21, the district anticipates hiring three more teachers to accommodate a need for extra class sections.
The change also could result in a greater number of students who would have to be sent elsewhere if the classes in their home schools reach capacity, Superintendent Jason Pearson said.
"Every single situation is variable," he said. "It's hard to predict, no matter how well you plan the boundaries, what the impact is going to be."
School board members said they believe the benefits of a lower student-to-teacher ratio outweigh the extra costs and the risk of having to transfer some kids.
"Fundamentally, I do believe we need to try to, at the early grades, keep those class sizes as small as possible," board member Ed McNally said. "These are those formative years that are going to have an impact on what occurs later in their education."
The 25-student cap is manageable from a budget standpoint and feasible for the number of classrooms available, Pearson said. Administrators presented several other options the past few weeks, including lowering the cap for kindergarten only, adding second grade into the mix, or shrinking class sizes to 20 students in future years.
Waibel said officials will evaluate the change closely and consider its impact on student performance and district finances.
"We're not sure what the sweet spot for class size will be," she said. "All we can do is keep trying."