Years ago, when I was an associate producer at a cable news station, I worked with someone who can best be described as, well, a jerk. Once, another hour’s show found themselves short staffed. That show’s producer asked us if they could use one of our reporters. “No. Sorry.” Said my not-so-pleasant co-worker. I turned to him later and asked, “We’re not even using him today for his report. Why wouldn’t you lend him out?” “Because,” he explained, “once you say it’s ok to take something from you, you’ll never get anything back.” Looking back on that now, in light of the school board’s plans to increase the class size in the elementary schools, I think the jerk may be right.
Let me explain where I’m coming from: My oldest will be entering elementary school in the fall here in Scarsdale. I am beyond excited. I don’t consider myself a particularly high maintenance mom. My daughter was in daycare for 2 years before going to nursery school. I believe in full day kindergarten, a friend’s sniffle has never caused me to cancel a play date and while she has plenty of activities and structure in her day, the TV is on more than I care to admit. My daughter is outgoing and independent and bright. Adding to the class size may not cause her to get lost in the shuffle. It still doesn’t make it right.
I know the argument. Increasing the cap on class size does not necessarily mean that the class will be that large. Times are tight, tough decisions need to be made. Every school district in the country is making cuts like these and worse. Live within our means. Tighten our belt. I get it, I get it. Then cut somewhere else. You may be reading and say, yeah she cares because it will affect her kids. Maybe so, but this will have some impact on all Scarsdale residents, even if it means more teachers at the high school.
Lets all agree that smaller class sizes make for better education. You can split hairs and say what’s the difference between 22 and 23 or 23 and 24, but what we are seeing is a trend. Even if your child has the greatest teacher on earth, less individual time with that teacher weakens the teacher-student relationship. Think about the shy kid who would have found his or her voice in a smaller class. And there are plenty of kids who struggle with subjects who need more one on one time to figure it out. Will they just be pushed along with the tide? Will we shrug and say, well, someone has to get a C, or math isn’t for everyone? That’s a shame because the student will never fully realize his or her potential. Those early years are important and we’d be selling kids short.
Yes, Scarsdale High School is amazing in terms of class offerings and education. To be clear, increasing the elementary class size by one will allow for more high school teachers. It won’t do a whole lot of good if we have a larger percentage of students coming in to high school apathetic or not having mastered the basics.
Larger class size: Bad idea.
I know that it’s becoming a national pastime to criticize teachers and gripe about how good they have it. Not me. It is a demanding job mentally, physically and emotionally. The argument that they get their summers off and are done by 3pm every day just doesn’t hold water for me. Many take summer jobs working with kids and nearly all work through the evening on lesson plans and grading papers. That is far more labor intensive than checking your Blackberry or getting on a conference call early with Asia.
Now, the elementary school teachers here have the prospect of teaching bigger classes. This changes how they may teach, will lead to more interruptions during the lesson and probably lead to more stress. Personally, I would like my kids’ teachers not to be stressed out.
And for the commenters on this site who argue that the teachers in Scarsdale get paid too much, who then, should be paid well? Major League Baseball players? CEOs? Pray tell.
Even if you don’t have kids in the schools here you should care about this. The value of your home will go down because of this. Your taxes thankfully will stay the same, or go up. Think of this like having your home by power lines. You may have the most beautiful home with the newest kitchen but if you have those pesky power-lines in sight, that’s what people will remember. Having Mandarin in the high school is terrific, I completely agree. Having nearly 100% of graduating seniors go on to college is a wonderful thing. Most people move here with young children. They care in the short term about elementary schools. They will see that class sizes are larger and may go somewhere else. Suddenly Scarsdale doesn’t seem so special and the taxes don’t seem remotely worth it. Larger class size: Bad idea.
About that Jerk:
Getting back to the story in the beginning and my co-worker’s point about once you say it’s ok to take something, people think you never needed it in the first place. So, if we concede on this because times are hard, or because it makes for more teachers in the high school we won’t get smaller classes back even if times are good. Then what’s next? Art? Music? Sports? This erodes the fabric of what this school district is based on. I appreciate that the Board is in a tough position right now. There is nothing, in my opinion, more overwhelming than working on a budget of taxpayer dollars. No one will be happy ever with whatever they come up with. But this is the wrong plan. This chips at the foundation of our schools, undermines our kids and is unfair to our teachers. No one moved here or lives here for that.
Jen is a freelance journalist who has covered the economy and markets for over a decade at a major financial news outlet. She lives in Scarsdale with her husband and 2 children. Jen has yet to bake a successful batch of cookies.