Class size concerns raised in Mishawaka

Some local parents took a closer look at what was going on in their kids’ classrooms—and they didn’t like what they saw.

“There are too many children in the classroom,” said parent Karen Zillmer. “Right now there are 18 classes at LaSalle (Mishawaka) seven of those have 30 or more students.”

“My son started at Mishawaka last year and he told me about how big the class sizes were, and I had no idea,” said parent Leslie LaFree.

All fifth graders in the Mishawaka School System spend the same amount of time in the classroom, but a kid’s ability to get the teacher’s attention can vary from building to building.

“We’re running right now actually a couple of sections at Battell School that have 19 students,” said Director of Curriculum Dan Towner with School City of Mishawaka.

At the other end of the spectrum, the fifth grade LaSalle School classroom of Karen Zillmer’s son has 32 students—the maximum allowed in any Mishawaka classroom this year.

Furthermore, the fourth grade classroom of Zillmer’s daughter is also maxed out at 32. “My daughter needs a little bit more help. Sometimes she can’t get it a lot of times, they’ll ask a question she can’t get an answer because there’s too many kids that have questions.”

Zillmer has gone to the last two school board meetings to complain about the situation, and she plans to speak again at the board meeting slated for October 22nd.

The Mishawaka School District is not alone in facing financial pressure to increase class size.

The State of Indiana used to place a high priority on keeping class sizes low. The main focus has since shifted to teacher quality. During his 2011 State of the State Address, former Governor Mitch Daniels said: “Class size by comparison is virtually meaningless. Put a great teacher in front of a large class and you can expect good results.”

In Mishawaka and elsewhere, class size limits used to be spelled out in the teacher’s collective bargaining agreement. Indiana lawmakers recently made that illegal.

“We certainly, in some fashion are at the point where we too are very concerned about managing those numbers and providing the education that we need to for those students,” said administrator Dan Towner.

Towner said that the last valid collective bargaining agreement spelled out a limit of 29 students per class at the fifth grade level. This year, administrators decided to increase that by three students, given the district’s financial limitations. “Given the financial realities the school corporation faces in the general fund we looked and have to staff it appropriately.”

Over the last three years, the average elementary school class size in Mishawaka has gone from 24.2 to 27. Towner expressed hope that the ratio will not go any higher.

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