District 300 teachers, administrators welcome lower class sizes

ALGONQUIN – Eastview Elementary School teacher Kevin Pokorny headed back to school two weeks ago with the task of teaching a manageable group of fifth-graders.

In a dramatic change, Pokorny is now responsible for teaching 21 students versus the 36 who were in his class last year. The lightened load allows him to spend more time individually with students and more resources on teaching.

“The amount of time I spend even thinking about my students has increased,” Pokorny said. “I know my students better now than I probably would have after the first month last year and the year before.”

Pokorny described the benefits of smaller class sizes in front of the District 300 board Monday as administrators detailed the changes they made to put the Carpentersville-based district in line with the lower class size caps detailed in a new teacher contract.

The phased-in limits on class sizes in the state’s sixth-largest school district was brokered during contentious negotiations that led to a one-day teacher strike last winter.

Beginning this school year, kindergarten through second-grade classes are limited to 27 students, according to the contract. Grades three through five are restricted at 30 students, and middle and high school classes are capped at 32 students.

At Eastview, average class sizes in fifth grade dropped from 35 to 20 students.

Nearly half of the three-year, $13 million teacher contract went to hiring 65 new teachers to help lower class sizes throughout the district. The extra staff allowed the district to add roughly 42 class sections at the elementary level, Chuck Bumbales, district assistant superintendent of operations, told the board.

The new teachers and sections could have filled two school buildings, he said. But administrators spent the spring reconfiguring building space and reorganizing the district’s pre-kindergarten programs to make room in its existing facilities.

The transformations came before first-day enrollment figures – shared Monday – revealed that the district added 33 students this year, bringing its population to 20,885.

“They are back to the business of education,” Bumbales said. “There’s just a different feel, and it’s a real good feel and a very productive environment.”

Bumbales and other administrators will now look at enrollment projections and data to determine where future growth exists within the district, as attention turns to redrawing attendance boundaries. The effort is meant to further lower class sizes in the next two years based on the terms of the contract.

Mike Williamson, president of Local Education Association of D300, credited the teachers, board and administration for seeing past differences to achieve lower classes for students.

“As a group, we’ve actually made real and powerful change in the district,” he said.

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