Sunday, September 29, 2013

Class Size, and Other 9/24 Highlights

As you have probably seen in the local papers, there was a lot of discussion about class size at the last board meeting. This is especially a concern at very young ages-- is it really good for a kindergardener to be part of a class of 31 students? Naturally there is no need to belabor the fact here that we could reduce class size with more money. But here a few key points worth keeping in mind when discussing this issue:
  • Superintendent Scott reported that he used to hold 10 teachers in reserve, to use to split up crowded classes due to unexpectedly high enrollment at one school, but due to recent budget cuts can't do this anymore.
  • A parent rightfully brought up the point that maybe we should shift our budget priorities-- are the 3 days we bought back with the Gain Share donation really more valuable than smaller kindergardens? Sure, that money would not reduce district-wide average class size by much, but it could have paid for the 10 spare teachers mentioned above.   
  • I'll also have to look very hard at similar tradeoffs, as I go through the budget process this year as a board member for the first time. I'm a bit worried that we're spending on popular fads while ignoring the basics. Investments in "STEM schools" are nice-- but would we rather have classes of 35 learning science from fancy technology, or 25 students catching butterflies with old-fashioned nets?
  • One other bright spot in this area is HSD's Hillsboro Online Academy.   Many other districts have reported that in an online setting, teachers can comfortably handle significantly more students, since they are freed from the stresses of classroom management.    I'm hoping that we can expand HOA opportunities to more of the district, including letting more students in other schools take some HOA classes, and thus help to relieve class size pressures district-wide.   I've volunteered for the board subcommittee overseeing HOA, and will post updates here as I learn more.
  • I didn't want to rathole the conversation by repeating the last meeting's charter school debate-- but if you review my blog entry from last time you'll see that under our current regulatory structure, charter schools are able to offer class sizes capped at 24, which Superintendent Scott said is impossible for non-charters. Isn't this yet another reason why we should be demanded more charter schools in HSD?

Aside from the class size discussion, some other highlights of the meeting included:

  • We're being recorded now on video!  As I've mentioned, I like this for several reasons. It's a full public record of the meeting, rather than just the terse minutes we've seen in the past. And it frees the spectators to view it at their leisure, rather than having to sit for several hours on a busy weekday evening.   
  • Curriculum Committee appointments were ratified. I'm especially excited to see two great new members join who I'm personally acquainted with: my Intel colleague Cameron Wilde, and "Stop Common Core" activist Jennifer Gallegos. I'm hoping we'll see this committee take a more active and skeptical role moving forward.
  • New drafts of numerous policies were presented, basically suggestions by the OSBA to improve compliance with current laws. I'm reviewing these & sending in questions; if you have interest in legal minutiae, you can also see them in the board packet (

That's it for this meeting. As always, be sure to comment on this blog or email me ( if you have comments or questions on the items above or on HSD in general.

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