Enrollment spike has Shelton seeking first grade teacher

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Sunnyside School has added a first-grade teacher in response to an enrollment spike in that grade level.

The Board of Education, at its meeting Wednesday, authorized Superintendent Ken Saranich to hire another teacher for Sunnyside’s first grade. This in turn would allow the students to be put in rooms with more manageable class sizes.

Principal Amy Yost said she hoped the new teacher could start by the end of September.

“I’m so appreciative of the Board of Ed for going forward with this,” Yost said. “The numbers in those classes were quite high. Now with more normal size classes there, we can take a deeper dive into small group instruction that will really benefit the students.”

Saranich said Sunnyside School presently has two first grade classes - one with 28 students, the other with 29.

“Those are high numbers,” Saranich said. “That is a problem.”

Yost, who has been principal for more than seven years, said these class sizes were the highest she has seen. Sunnyside School faced a similar situation five years ago, when the district hired an additional kindergarten teacher because class sizes had spiked just prior to the school year, she said.

“I feel the parents will be receptive because the classes had such high numbers,” Yost said of the new hire and dividing the 57 students into three classes only two weeks into the new school year. “The individual needs of the students will be better served now, and the teachers will be able to focus on each student’s individual needs. It will maximize instruction for each student.”

Saranich said his goal is to always keep class sizes as low as possible, especially in the elementary grades. But he says budgetary constraints keep the district from keeping to strict teacher-to-student ratio.

Saranich said other elementary school principals also deal with larger class sizes but added that in some cases those rooms have aids or paraprofessionals who also assist. In the case of Sunnyside School’s first grade classrooms, Saranich said that it was just one teacher in each class with the students.

The administration continually monitors classrooms and determine if more staff are needed, he said. He added that the building principals submit weekly enrollment updates and are proactive in alerting his office about any major issues with class sizes.

“There are other schools and grades we are monitoring closely,” Saranich added. “We want to set up each class for success. So we are always working to address these situations when they arise.”

Interviews are already underway for the new first grade teacher. Once hired, Yost will divide the 57 first grade students into three classrooms.

“It is not an ideal situation for us,” Saranich said about moving students after the year has begun. “But the long-term benefit is the outweighing factor here. Any transitional problems experienced by students or parents are ones that I feel (Yost) and her staff are more than capable of addressing.”

The cost of the new hire - estimated at $65,000 - will be covered in the budget by money saved through staff retirements.

For Sunnyside School’s first grade, Saranich said the enrollment projection numbers could be off for several reasons. New families moving into that area just prior to school, meaning late registrations; or possibly students not attending kindergarten last school year because of the pandemic are two possible causes, he said.

Yost said that the population is much more transient now than in the past, when families would mainly move during the summer so the children could be ready for the coming school year. Now, families are moving throughout the year, meaning districts see enrollment fluctuations monthly if not weekly, she said.