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As budget deadline nears, strapped school lobbies on class size

As they wait to hear the results of their principal’s budget appeal, parents and teachers at Manhattan’s PS 3 are sounding the alarm over rising class sizes.

Tomorrow is the deadline for principals to tell the city how they plan to spend their budgets. With schools experiencing average cuts of 2.43 percent, they are likely to see class sizes grow as teaching vacancies go unfilled.

In April, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that 4,000 planned layoffs would cause average class sizes to rise by about 1.5 students. But the School Leadership Team at PS 3 says the elementary school has been warned that, even now that layoffs have been averted, classes could grow to as large as 30 students in the fall.

Last week, we reported that PS 3’s principal, Lisa Siegman, has filed an official appeal of her budget, saying, “I couldn’t staff the school for the classrooms” with the $5.4 million allocated to the school. Yesterday, the SLT sent a letter to Walcott — and a host of other public officials — imploring him not to let class sizes skyrocket.

“Even excellent teachers have limits to their energy, time, patience, and ability to solve the infinite array of problems that facilitating learning involves,” the letter reads. “At PS 3, we have seen firsthand how increase in class size can negatively impact teachers’ energy and students’ ability to learn.”

The full letter is below.

July 20, 2011 VIA EMAIL (dmwalcott@schools.nyc.gov) Hon. Chancellor Dennis Walcott NYC Department of Education Tweed Courthouse 52 Chambers Street New York, NY 10007 Dear Chancellor Walcott, One of the phrases that we hear all too frequently is, Class size is not important. Teacher quality is. This argument rings hollow. We are graced with high quality teachers; however when they have too many students whose needs they are trying to address, their effectiveness declines. The image that comes to mind is that of the juggling troupe, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, who juggle odd assortments of objects, even soliciting some from the audience. However, no matter how skilled the juggler, if s/he attempts to manage too many objects at once, some fall. In our instance, unfortunately, what falls is children. The Department of Education is considering a budget premised on increasing class sizes for grades 1-5 to 30 students per class. We are writing to urge you not to adopt a budget that requires such an increase. While we are sympathetic that budget cuts must be made and priorities must be shifted, increasing class size will fundamentally hinder learning. The simple fact is that teachers cannot provide optimal, differentiated instruction for 25 young children as well as they can for 20, let alone for 32. Even excellent teachers have limits to their energy, time, patience, and ability to solve the infinite array of problems that facilitating learning involves. At PS 3, we have seen firsthand how increase in class size can negatively impact teachers’ energy and students’ ability to learn. The timing of this proposed class size increase is particularly unfortunate, as our school community has been enthusiastic about incorporating instruction and assessments that address the new Common Core Standards, an initiative that New York City and State are supporting with great vigor. Larger class sizes are likely to be highly discouraging to instructional staff. This has nothing to do with teacher attitudes, which are positive and inclusive, but rather the difficulty of implementing so many changes at once. We urge you not to move forward with a budget that requires increased class size. It would be a major step backward for closing the gap in providing quality education for all. Sincerely, PS 3 SLT Denise Collins, Chairperson Dana Abraham Patricia Laraia Liz Craig Kirsty Mogensen Nick Gottlieb Jackie Peters Jean Hale Amie Schindel Kimberly Jensen Cassidy Sehgal Stephanie Kim Lisa Siegman Susan Korn Susan Soler Cc: Budget@schools.nyc.gov Jerrold Nadler, US Congress Bill De Blasio, NYC Public Advocate Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President The Honorable Christine Quinn, Speaker NYC Council Tom Duane, NYS Senator Deborah J. Glick, NYS Assembly Melanie La Rocca, Office of Speaker Quinn Sandy Myers, Office of Manhattan Borough President Patrick J. Sullivan, PEP Manhattan Rep Monica Major, PEP Bronx Rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj, PEP Queens Rep Gbubemi Okotieuro, PEP Brooklyn Rep Shino Tanikawa, CEC-D2 Marc Sternberg, Deputy Chancellor Lenny Speiller, Executive Director, Office of Public Affairs