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Hamburg school board looks at class size limits

HAMBURG — Classroom size limits for grades kindergarten-fifth in the Hamburg School District were established by district officials at the June 10 meeting, for the purpose of accommodating budgeted staff reductions for 2014-15. The issue brought contention from board members, some of whom did not believe district officials should act in this “governing” fashion.

An action item of establishing limits of no more than 22 students per class in grades K-two, as well as no more than 28 in grades three-five, was approved by a board vote of 4-3. School Board Vice President Sally Stephenson and board members Holly Balaya and Catherine Schrauth Forcucci voted against the measure, while School Board President David Yoviene and board members Thomas Flynn, Patricia Brunner-Collins and Laura Heeter voted in favor of the item. District Superintendent Richard Jetter stated that such class guidelines have been long discussed since the budget planning period, as a reduction of four positions has been budgeted for adoption as of July 1.

However, Balaya said it should not be under the jurisdiction of district officials to enact such changes.

“It should be up to the building principal,” said Balaya, whose stated last meeting as a departing board member was Tuesday. “[For the board] to come up with an arbitrary number [is wrong]. We’re not the ones who come up with instruction.”

Schrauth Forcucci, who has been the subject of a series of hearings, the most recent of which took place on June 11, as part of the process of district officials’ attempts to remove her from the board for alleged official misconduct, wondered if enacting such changes were allowed, per New York State Education Department regulations. Stephenson said having as many as 28 children in a classroom would be detrimental to the academic learning process, for both students and teachers.

“I wish last-minute concerns had been brought [to district officials] earlier,” said Jetter.

“We’ve discussed this on and on,” added Heeter.

The last few weeks have featured judicial debate over whether or not the district can keep hearings regarding Schrauth Forcucci closed to the public. Her attorney, Margaret Murphy, had stated that attempts have been made to make such proceedings public in nature, although no such hearings have been open, prior to Wednesday. Local attorney Daniel Chiacchia spoke during public comment session Tuesday and briefly spoke on the need to keep such hearings non-public to protect those who testify as part of the process in a “controlled environment.”

During a public hearing earlier that evening, regarding the district’s annual code of conduct review, it was stated that wording would be adjusted, regarding prohibited student conduct. Director of Pupil Services Colleen Kaney said code of conduct committee members first assembled in 2011 and have met since to update various policies. Tuesday’s review included board members expressing the need to specify wording on students’ misbehaving, which had included items from maliciously pulling a fire alarm as well as having an unprepared students in class causing disruption. Various board members felt the latter action should be listed as a violation of conduct only if it occurred repeatedly.

It was decided that the code of conduct policy would be amended to include student misbehavior listing “repeated infractions” and “pattern of offenses” as part of the “unprepared” designation of violation.

Also during the public hearing, a resident expressed a belief that dogs should not be allowed on Hamburg’s campus for sporting events, or in district classrooms. She added that the same sentiment had been expressed by other residents, adding that those who bring canines to Hamburg aren’t necessarily from this district.

It was stated that various signage indicates that dogs are not allowed on the sports complex turf, although enforcement of such regulations could be better dictated.

During the regular meeting, Hamburg High School sophomore Sal Pace spoke in support of the district not cutting the Advanced Placement Chemistry course. Pace said that the course provides students an opportunity to earn up to eight college credit hours and $7,000 in tuition savings, provided participating pupils earn a score of 5 out of a possible 5. The sophomore added that the course provides students with valuable intangibles.

“It makes students think and learn differently,” said Pace. “One must use their imagination [to succeed].”

Also Tuesday, district mathematics teachers Derek and Michelle Hill outlined the Math Flip Classroom, a model that includes a different approach with take-home learning opportunities. Differing from the traditional lecture model, the Flipped Classroom technique offers students an interactive, 15-minute video to watch at home, with questions asked and students encouraged to bring in follow-up inquiries to class the next day. “Explain Everything” and “Moodle” videos are used as part of the process, with online tests and quizzes given with multiple chances for students to improve. A link to related websites and and resources is provided.

“We’ve learned that as teachers, we’re not the center stage,” said Derek Hill.


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