LYNNFIELD — A couple of parents with incoming kindergarten students have raised concerns over a reduction in the number of kindergarten classes, from four to three, this fall at Summer Street School.
“This decision was based on a class-size policy written by the School Committee,” Jenny Sheehan said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “We, the parents, are asking for the School Committee to please review and revise the class-size policy to give more flexibility that better supports these needs of our youngest learners.”
Jenny Sheehan said Superintendent Kristen Vogel told her that the decision was made to adhere to the class-size policy guidelines of 18-22 students per class, and that Vogel said “that class size has no bearing on academic success.”
“I was surprised to hear that as just three years ago, the School Committee and town asked us taxpayers to fund a $17 million expansion of our elementary schools for the reason of maintaining smaller class sizes,” Jenny Sheehan said. “Now we have a chance to further reduce class size with money that is already approved in the budget for this purpose. This investment in our children for four classrooms and smaller class size would cost $0.”
Jenny Sheehan said the class-size policy was written 20 years ago, and asked when the School Committee last reviewed it.
“Is it actually still supporting our learners of today?” Jenny Sheehan asked. “With young children being diagnosed at higher rates of one-in-five children for neurodivergence such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to truly show these children support.”
Amanda Sheehan (no relation to Jenny Sheehan) said she shared Jenny Sheehan’s sentiments, and said she and her husband have been in education for more than 30 years combined, mainly in city schools.
“We moved to Lynnfield for one reason only, and we all know what that is,” Amanda Sheehan said. “We moved here so our child is not a number. You haven’t met our incoming kindergarteners. I don’t even know when my incoming kindergartener’s screening is.”
Jenny Sheehan asked if the School Committee had changed its stance on the importance of class size, and asked what use of the budget’s money could be better than opening a fourth class.
School Committee Vice Chair and Policy Subcommittee member Stacy Dahlstedt admitted that the policy is “old and outdated,” but said it would “still stand where we’re at.”
“We, the superintendent, and the building principals look closely at our enrollment numbers and what the appropriated number of classrooms are for each grade, not just kindergarten,” Dahlstedt said. “That keeps our class sizes within the range of that policy. I don’t think we are in a position to reduce class size. I think what we are trying to do is balance what’s best for students while balancing our financial budgetary obligations and constraints.”
Vogel said the process of determining the number of class sections has not changed over the years.
“The decision is made based on the number of students,” Vogel said. “Last year it warranted four, the year before that it warranted five. There is no typical set number of kindergarten classrooms that we will have… It’s all dependent on the number of children that are going to that school.”
Vogel said there are 64 incoming kindergartners in three classes at Summer Street School and 86 in four classes at Huckleberry Hill School. She said that enrollment numbers will be monitored in the event that an adjustment becomes necessary to stay within the guidelines.
“We’re still pretty early in this process and a lot can happen. As I said to you on Friday, we watch it all summer,” Vogel said. “If there is anything dramatic that happens, we will make adjustments. I don’t want you to think that there was a conscious decision to do something different than what we’ve done in the past. As it so happens, there are fewer kindergartners in Lynnfield this year.”
Jenny Sheehan said while parents understand the policy and guidelines, they are concerned that a class of 22 would be difficult for the incoming students, and fear that larger kindergarten classes will become a “new normal.”
“Parents feel the district is trending towards the higher number,” Jenny Sheehan said.
“It’s a numbers game,” Vogel said. “It’s literally a math problem.”