Parents of Covert Elementary School kindergartners push for smaller class sizes

District looks into possibility amid tight budget


Parents of kindergartners at William S. Covert Elementary School are pushing district administrators to add a third class to the grade in order to decrease the number of students in what they called “overcrowded and distracting” classrooms.

Currently, the two kindergarten classes have 24 and 25 students, respectively. “This environment is unsafe, chaotic, and lacking the differential academic instruction the Rockville Centre School District promises of its all-inclusive settings,” said Elizabeth Flatley, who read a letter on behalf of the classes’ parents at the Board of Education’s March 27 meeting.

In the past, according to school officials, when classes in a grade level have averaged more than 25 kids, a new class has normally been formed to reduce the class sizes.

Last summer, for example, kindergartners at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School were slated to be in three classes of 25 students each. But a new student enrolled at the last minute, which triggered a split, reducing the class sizes from 25 students to 19.

But at the meeting last month, Covert parents implored the district to look beyond headcount. “Given the individual needs of the current kindergartners, we are asking the board to consider the specific makeup of the grade, not sheer numbers,” Flatley said.

About 45 percent of the students in those two classes require some sort of special support, she said, an estimate that Darren Raymar, principal of Covert Elementary School, described to the Herald after the meeting as accurate. He added that the classes include a higher-than-usual number of students with specific needs, including English as a New Language, or ENL, students, special education students, and others who receive behavioral support and Academic Intervention Services.

This means as many as six adults can be in one of the classrooms at a time, Raymar said, which though helpful for those children, can be overstimulating at times.

Though Raymar acknowledged that he has not seen a grade level with as many specific issues in a long time — adding that the parents are reasonable in their concerns — he lauded the work of the classes’ teachers and aides.

“I think my staff’s done a phenomenal job of making sure that the kids are learning, they’re progressing and that they’re safe,” Raymar said. “Does that mean that it’s the optimum situation? I don’t necessarily know it’s the optimum situation.”

He said he would advocate for a third class, agreeing with parents that the district should not simply look at headcount in these situations. “Each child is so different that you can’t just say a kid is a kid is a kid,” Raymar said. He noted that a decision to break precedent could be avoided, however, if two more children enrolled before the fall, putting the number of students at 51 and most likely spurring a division to three classes.

The parents’ request came in the midst of the district’s second public meeting regarding the 2018-19 budget. School officials are currently trying to close an $800,000 gap in the proposed spending plan, and a portion of a proposal to save money in several areas was shot down by board members. Parents asked the board to include solving the class-size issue in their deliberations.

“We need to go back … and take a look at each of the kids in both of those classes, take a look at all of those children’s needs and then make my recommendation,” Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson told the Herald after the meeting. He added that creating a new section would require a new staff member and classroom space, and that it would be discussed after the schools’ April break.

Raymar said district administrators have been very supportive of Covert Elementary School, and understood that the tight budget may make it tough to add a staff member. In that case, he said, he would ensure that the future first-graders would be placed into big classrooms next year.

“They have the best interest in the kids as well,” Raymar said of the district, “so I don’t think it’s anyone against anyone. I feel like it’s a team effort here.”