In his last meeting as the district's superintendent, Jim O'Neill told the Board of Education they may need to consider hiring several new teachers due to still-increasing enrollment.
"We have several classes that are approaching maximum," O'Neill said.
O'Neill recommended to the board during Monday night's meeting that they approve the hiring of a new fourth grade teacher for Lafayette Avenue School. The most students each fourth grade classroom should have are 25 students, he said.
Of the 14 sections of the fourth grade, O'Neill said, "all of them are at 25 [and] three of them are at 26. It's unhealthy to start the school year [at that level] because every child who comes in will extend those numbers upwards from that."
O'Neill also said enrollment numbers were currently close to a maximum in the kindergarten enrollment at Milton Avenue School and Washington Avenue School, and also at the first grade level at Southern Boulevard School. However, he said enrollment was still ongoing for the fall, and the board should wait until the July 18 meeting before taking action to hire a teacher.
O'Neill said he had given instructions to the schools that offer kindergarten and first grade that they should inform any parents coming in to register that their children may not attend school at that location.
The board needed to consider "if there was a full class of kindergarten at Milton Avenue School, could an additional enrollee attend at Washington Avenue School, [and] If there was a crowd at Washington Avenue School, is that family close enough to attend Southern Boulevard School."
Several parents with children in the affected age groups asked the board to reconsider postponing a decision. Heather Turnbull asked O'Neill to "please find a way to add a first grade [section to] Southern Boulevard."
Turnbull said the current enrollment for the fall at Southern Boulevard had five sections of first grade, two with 24 students and three with 23 students. "I find those numbers compelling right now. I don't think we need to wait," Turnbull said.
"These are larger classes than were seen at Southern Boulevard than there were when they had aides [in the class]," Turnbull said.
Lisa Kressler and Susan Kiernan, who both worked as teachers, also spoke in favor of adding another section of first grade at Southern Boulevard to keep class sizes low. Kiernan, reading from some research she collected, said "gains associated with small classes are stronger for earlier grades" and "reduced class size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement, and [the] major benefits from a reduced class size are attained as the class size is reduced below 20."
Maria Djurasovic, also a teacher, said she moved to Chatham for the schools. "With an incoming first-grader in September at SBS, I'm quite upset to know that she might be in a class of 24 students," she said.
O'Neill said the district had a target of 20 students for such young age groups, and the question of adding another section became more "compelling" as class sizes inched closer to 25 students per section in first grade.
However, he said it sometimes happened when families moved out of Chatham "instead of just in," and he urged the board to wait until July to see "whether those are hard numbers or tentative numbers."