Any cuts to Eastwood Elementary staff are unacceptable, teachers made clear last week to the Oberlin board of education.
The outcry came in response to a school board meeting agenda item that called for elimination of an elementary teaching position.
The item was removed from the agenda by Oberlin superintendent David Hall prior to the meeting but elementary teachers still made their voices heard.
Their biggest concern was the impact the loss of a teacher could have on class sizes.
“In the past, our class sizes have been kept low because it was a priority to the building and the community,” Eastwood teacher Brittany Leader said. “We as a building agreed it was best practice for students. We as teachers know that to fully and successfully implement board-adopted curriculum, having a smaller class size increases individualized attention, classroom participation, and retention of knowledge.”
Leader attended the meeting, but many other teachers were unable to do so — school had been canceled that day due to a snow storm. Several teachers wrote down their thoughts, which Leader read to the board of education.
In a prepared statement, Eastwood teacher Maggie Olinick walked board members through a typical day teaching. She said that while she tries to give all of her students one-on-one attention, it’s impossible, even with smaller class sizes.
“Now I am not writing this because I want you to feel bad for me. Teaching has been a lifelong dream for me and I could not imagine doing anything else,” Olinick said. “I’m writing this because I want you to feel for our children of Oberlin. I want you to see that even with 20 students in my class, I am still not able to meet with each child individually every day for each subject area. Now to increase the class, that would mean even less individual time than what our students currently receive.”
According to Hall, the agenda item wasn’t to eliminate a teacher from the district but to shuffle one to another grade or building where they’re needed.
“What we do each year is look for kids to move up. Right now, we have 58 first-graders moving up to second grade,” Hall said. “This year we have 85 second-graders. With those 58 kids moving up, to keep the numbers low at the elementary level, that requires a teacher to move down or to a different location in the district.”
If a teaching position at Eastwood were eliminated, that teacher could move take on another position at Eastwood or Prospect Elementary.
“Their concern is that we have 71 kindergartners moving to first grade. We don’t know what the number is going to look like, and won’t until two or three months from now, because it depends on if kids leave or others open enroll in the district,” Hall said. “We have a lot of variables going on in the next few months, so we have to wait until we get all that information in, to figure out whether or not if we’ll need another teacher at that grade level.”
Class sizes at Eastwood are around 20 students per class, according to Hall.
He expects to have a good idea of how many students each class at Eastwood will have by April or May and expects the board to decide on the possible elimination of a teaching position sometime after that.
Cheryl Lawrie, International Baccalaureate primary years program coordinator and reading intervention specialist at Eastwood, attended the board meeting and stated concerns about constant cuts at Eastwood.
“Eastwood continues to be on the chopping block of instructional support and services for our students. More and more gets taken away and nothing ever comes back,” she said. “We continue to do more with less. We take on more responsibilities, more requirements, and increasingly more initiatives because we are being asked to from our administration and the Department of Education.”
Hall said he has not made a single teaching cut at Eastwood during his time as superintendent.
“They said that they’ve had cuts on teachers each year, but I haven’t cut a teacher at Eastwood in the year and half I’ve been here,” he said. “They said that was before I was here, and I told them I am committed to having smaller class sizes at the K-2 level, if we can.”
Still, Hall understands the teachers’ concerns.
“They’re fearful, I believe, of higher class sizes coming in and impacting education,” he said. “I was a teacher, so I understand where they’re really coming from.”
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.