Tahoma works to reduce class sizes

Kindergarten to third grade classrooms need to have 15 to 17 students in them

The Tahoma School Board during an April 2 work study session discussed rising enrollment and class size reduction for the district’s six elementary schools.

In 2014, voters passed the Washington Class Size Reduction Measure — Initiative 1351 — requiring kindergarten to third grade classrooms have 15 to 17 students, according to Ballotpedia.org.

Tahoma has not yet met this goal, but according to a post made by Tahoma Superintendent Tony Giurado on the district’s Facebook page, the district is well on its way to meeting that goal.

He said the district reduced the number of students in grades K-3 by four students per classroom since the 2014-15 school year. The next goal is to reduce class sizes within those grades by two more students in the 2019-20 school year.

The measure was designed to be phased in over a course of four years and the changes were set to be applied first at high-poverty schools, according to Ballotpedia.

Kevin Patterson, communications director for Tahoma, said if districts do not meet the goals of the initiative they will receive less state funding per pupil in K-3.

It’s important to note though, this is not an “either or” situation, he said.

“For example, if we can’t meet the ratio, it doesn’t mean they just automatically cut off all of our additional funding, they still fund according to how many kids are in the class,” Patterson explained. “So say we’re at 18 to 1 instead of 17 to 1, we would still get a share of that state funding for reducing class size, we just wouldn’t get the whole amount.”

Since a lot of districts in Washington have not been able to meet the class size reductions, the state may extend the deadline to meet the goal.

Patterson said Tahoma is having a hard time meeting the class size reduction goal because even though there is funding, it’s not for adding more facilities. Instead, the funding is for districts to meet that student to teacher ratio. With that funding, Patterson said the goal is to add 10 more teachers to the district for the 2019-20 school year.

“If you’re going to take students out of classrooms to reduce sizes, you have to put those kids some place and that means more classrooms,” Patterson said.

A brief history

Giurado said historically, there have been quite a few things that have happened that impact where the district is as far as managing its enrollment.

In 2013, Legislature passed legislation increasing kindergarten services from being a half day to a full day.

“That’s the first historical thing that happened that is creating demand for more classroom space,” Giurado said.

The change to kindergarten classes was fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year.

In 2015, the district’s bond to build Lake Wilderness Elementary and the new high school was passed. Around the same time, Giurado said some re-zoning changes were happening in the city as additional multi-family units were built.

“So we’ve had additional growth in the community on top of the full day kindergarten, on top of our need to move toward smaller class sizes in K-3,” Giurado explained.

When 2016 rolled around, Tahoma had a boundary review committee look at how the district could reorganize to best meet enrollment growth and facility challenges.

As the new high school and Lake Wilderness Elementary opened, Giurado said a major reorganization of district boundaries also went into affect. He said around 70 percent of families and staff changed schools in one way or another.

In 2018, the district negotiated with the teachers association to implement additional planning time for elementary school teachers starting in 2019-20, moving from 30 minutes of planning a day to 45 minutes.

“We are implementing a new elementary day model to accommodate that. Over time, we’ve had a variety of things that have happened that have put pressure on our facilities. That’s kind of how we arrived at where we are today,” Giurado said.

Looking to the future

Giurado said when the district looks at enrollment projections — they need a plan.

Last fall, Giurado said he conducted a Superintendent Listening Tour where he met with 900 parents, staff and students.

“One of the items that was raised during the listening tour was a general concern and a priority for us to have a plan to deal with and manage the growth in the community and its impact on our schools,” he said.

With that in mind, Giurado said he made a commitment to the school board to create a 10 year plan to address enrollment growth within the schools.

He said the plan will be a 2020 to 2030 timeline.

During that time, two committees with be created — a boundary review committee and a brick and mortar solutions committee.

The boundary review will look at what adjustments need to be made within the next 10 years. This committee will also look at the immediate needs for the district within the first one to five years.

The brick and mortar solutions for the future committee will look at whether the district needs to build more schools or whether additions will need to be made to existing schools.

Giurado said within the last 10 years, the district has experienced a growth of about 1,231 students and it is projected to see an additional 850 students within the next 10 years.

To accommodate the projected growth of students, and to meet I-1351, Giurado said some classes may need to be taught in alternative locations.

“For example, right now we have music teachers that are teaching music on a stage as opposed to in a music classroom. While at the same time, we want to maintain a quality of our student learning experiences,” he explained.

Giurado said he does not know if this arrangement would be long term or not, but plans are still in the works and nothing is set in stone just yet.

What is for sure known though, is there will be no boundary changes happening for the 2019-20 school year, Giurado said.

“It seems simple to say sometimes, ‘Well, if we just reduce class size then students are going to have a better learning experience.’ And that’s true to a point. But there are other factors and we’ve been looking at those for a long time. We think that even though our class sizes aren’t as low as the initiative called for, we’re still providing kids with a really good education. That is the focus,” Patterson said.

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