The Waugh Chapel Elementary School PTA is protesting the impending transfer of a teacher, saying the resulting shuffle of pupils and instructors will create larger classes in some cases and might disrupt the lives of more than 100 children at the Odenton school.
The transfer is part of a plan to address the school's underenrollment by 76 pupils with the transfer of a third-grade teacher to a crowded school. The move would trigger a series of changes at Waugh Chapel, including combining some first- and second-graders into one class and increasing the size of the other classes in those two grades.
Members of the Waugh Chapel PTA - who plan to express concerns at today's Board of Education meeting - say the changes are upsetting because the school has endured years of crowding. Parents were relieved that this year promised smaller classes, of 18 to 20 pupils, in the early grades.
"Our children, especially those at these young ages, need small classes," the Waugh Chapel PTA wrote in a letter to Carol S. Parham, the county superintendent of schools, urging her to stop the transfer of the third-grade teacher.
"For the first time in many years, our teachers have the opportunity to teach reasonable class sizes," the letter says. "This decision benefits no one - not our students and not our teachers."
PTA members also say parents should have been included in the staffing changes and wonder why the changes couldn't have been made before school started.
School Principal Joyce Sims called the parents of the affected children last week and sent a letter home with children Friday to explain the situation, said Joshua A. Ederheimer, vice president of the Waugh Chapel PTA. He said the changes are scheduled to begin next week.
"This is a major disruption of the first, second and third grades," he said. "Why didn't they adequately project how many students are going to be at Waugh Chapel, and why did they communicate this to the school one week before it's supposed to happen without any consultation of parents?" Ederheimer's 6-year-old daughter will be in the combined first- and second-grade class, and his 8-year-old son is in the third-grade class of the teacher to be transferred.
School administrators said they make staffing decisions based on enrollment projections but that enrollment numbers sometimes don't match the estimates.
Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction, said school officials wait until school opens each year to study actual enrollments and shift teachers among schools to make the best match between enrollment and instructors.
He said that projecting the final numbers at Waugh Chapel became complicated because of the redistricting associated with the new Piney Orchard Elementary School. School planners projected the 2000 enrollment at Waugh Chapel at 469 a year after the school was nearly 200 pupils over capacity. Last week, 392 pupils showed up for classes, leading to the teacher transfer and to the restructuring of classes.
Lawson acknowledged that combining two grades into one class is not an ideal instructional arrangement. "On balance, it's always better to have individual grades," he said, "but in a number of instances where the numbers lend themselves to combined classes, we've done it successfully."
This year, school administrators said, there are 21 combined classes in county schools, slightly fewer than last year. This year, eight teachers at underenrolled schools will be transferred to crowded schools.
At Waugh Chapel, the combined class of first- and second-graders will have 16 pupils, and there will be 25 children in the two other first-grade classes. The second grade will have classes of 24 and 25. Under the original staffing plan, which is still in effect, there are three classes each in the first and second grades, with 16 to 20 pupils in each class.
The county's teacher-student ratio is 1 to 25, but school officials are working toward a ratio of 1 to 20 in the early grades.
Although Ederheimer's daughter will be in the combined class, she's "not losing out on the deal" because of the small class size, he said. But last year, she also got off to a rocky start at Waugh Chapel, he said.
For six weeks, she was in a crowded kindergarten class of 30 children and was moved to a smaller class after parents fought for another kindergarten teacher at the school.