/Classroom changes leave parents and students unsettled

Classroom changes leave parents and students unsettled

By Jenn Watt
Parents of students at Archie Stouffer Elementary School say they and their children have been through a whirlwind of emotions for about two weeks as they anticipated reorganization of classes for kindergarten and Grade 7/8 students. 
Information was sent out by the school administration on Monday, Sept. 9 that more students had registered at ASES than was expected. 
ASES had 35 more students than had been projected, which included seven additional students in junior kindergarten, according to the school board. This necessitated another classroom for kindergarten students and one for 7/8 to commence on Monday, Sept. 23 – two weeks after the initial announcement. 
An email from the principal to parents was framed in a positive light, pointing out that new teachers would be hired to accommodate the increase and that class sizes would decrease – from 29 or 30 students to 22 or 23, for kindergarten. 
However, after the initial email, some parents began to feel apprehensive about the changes to come. Students weren’t informed who would be switching classes and, for some, they wouldn’t meet their new teacher until the day the transition happened. 
In total, 116 students, or 27 per cent of the student population at ASES, was involved in the classroom shift, according to the board.
“It’s going to be really, really hard. For the SKs [senior kindergarten students], they’ve already formed relationships, they already have friendships. They’re going into a new class now, three weeks after school has started,” said parent April Austen. “They now have to learn how to deal with a new teacher, new everything after three weeks. For some of these JKs [junior kindergarten students], some are flat out refusing to go to school.”
Austen said she was frustrated that the new teachers weren’t hired sooner and that so many students were shuffled between classes, when administration could have decided to move fewer students to provide stability.
She said her daughter, who is in senior kindergarten, cried for an hour and a half when she found out she would be moving. “She had finally formed some friendships with three other girls and those four girls are now in four different classrooms,” she said. “So they literally went, OK, one, two, three, four [assigning students] … There were very few kids who got to stay where they were.”
Another parent who asked that the Minden Times not use her name for fear of backlash from the school, said “it almost seems like they put names in a hat and picked classes.”
She said parents and students were experiencing anxiety over the changes, and she thought teachers likely were too. 
“I was anxious all week waiting for the decision to be made,” she said. “My child kept asking if he was having to leave his class or if his friends were leaving. Made for a rough week at home. My child is only five, so how do you explain that to them?”
This mother said inquiries were met with generic responses from the school. When the day came that classroom assignments would be announced, parents received the news through an automated call, which for some came around the same time they pick their kids up from school, just before the planned annual open house.
The mother said she wished the school had planned better or done the shift in the first week. “This has been a horrible process to go through,” she said. “This could have been handled very, very differently. No one understands why the principal chose to move and shuffle the entire JK/SK group of kids when they could have moved just those to fill the new class. Maybe shuffle a couple [if] necessary. Instead they chose to uproot the entire JK/SK group of kids.”
Registration numbers were collected at the end of the last school year, Trillium Lakelands District School Board communications manager Catherine Shedden said. At that point, ASES had the numbers to qualify for three kindergarten classes. 
“There was also information that the provincial class size regulations were changing but the board did not have the final confirmation of the changes. The new class size regulations were posted on Aug. 22, 2019,” she said via email. 
In the first week of school, class size information was compiled and it was found that ASES “ended up having seven additional students in JK which is a significant increase from their numbers the last week of June. This caused a need for an additional FDK [full day kindergarten] class.”
Asked about a rumour that funding had been requested for an additional teacher/classroom in the spring, Shedden said teachers are assigned based on how many classrooms are required, which is determined by student enrolment and class size caps. 
As for the 10-day delay between the announcement of the new classes and the actual restructuring, she said: “The decision to add two additional classes to [ASES] was made on the fifth day of school after all school data was analyzed. The posting for a new teacher must be out for five days before hiring can be done and therefore Monday, Sept. 23 is the date for the new classes to start so that the new teachers can be hired and in place.”
Jennifer Hughey, who is a local councillor and a parent of students at ASES, said the reorganization led to a solemn open house for some students on Sept. 18. 
“Traditionally, an evening for kids to show parents their classrooms, to eat hamburgers, hot dogs and corn; instead, it became a sad evening for some children who had to be told they were no longer in the class they thought. Meeting a new teacher, again, and getting situated in a class, again,” she wrote in an email to the Times. 
Hughey’s children were not involved in the reorganization, but she said she was concerned with how it happened. 
“My concerns are also based on the point [of] anxiety and uncertainty. School is a huge thing for JK/SK-aged children. It’s the first time they are away from their parents for that long for most, and with the level of uncertainty that creates alone – adding additional anxiety of not being sure you may be in another class or have another teacher in a few weeks … is very scary.” 
Hughey said that she loved ASES and she supported the staff there, but “right now there are serious issues pushing families to make decisions to buy homes outside Minden or send children to programming outside Minden.”
Shedden said the individual needs and capabilities of students were reviewed with staff during the process. 
“School staff work carefully to create the best possible arrangements for all our students,” she said. “All these changes help us to create class sizes that fall within the Ministry of Education requirements.”
She said the situation this year “is not unusual,” but reorganization can look different at different schools. “While an increase in enrolment can cause some minor temporary disruption in a school, it does mean that the board will receive additional funding to provide the teachers, supports, and resources required for students,” she said.
Shedden also noted that it’s important parents register their children for school before June of the previous school year. 
April Austen said parents and students will eventually get used to the new classrooms and teachers, but she hopes this level of reorganization can be avoided in the future. 
“Yes, it’s happened and we’ll deal with it, but it can’t happen again,” she said. “There has to be a better way to do things going forward.”

As the Times prepares to go to press, parents have contacted the paper to say additional teacher changes, unrelated to the initial reorganization, had been announced.