Briarwood parents raise red flags over classroom sizes

Class sizes at Briarwood Elementary have raised concerns with parents.
Class sizes at Briarwood Elementary have raised concerns with parents.

Parents at Briarwood Elementary have raised concerns about class sizes at the school, specifically in the second and third grades.

The elementary staffing guidelines for the Shawnee Mission School District show that 17 to 29 students is an acceptable range for second and third grade classrooms, a limit that was raised in January 2011. The Briarwood second grade classrooms have 24 to 27 and in third grade 27 to 28, but each class has an additional three students from the English Language Learners program integrated for 40 percent of the day, according to a Briarwood parent presentation to the school board. That pushes the number over acceptable levels, they contend.

Kirsten Byrd was one of the Briarwood parents who spoke the school board in late September asking for relief from the large class sizes. Byrd’s presentation also questioned the fairness to Briarwood. Her data showed that Briarwood’s second and third grade class sizes are higher than any of the other elementaries feeding into SM East, while Briarwood has the second-highest proportion of economically disadvantaged students of those schools. It also has the highest non-Caucasian population of the schools, according to the data.

This is not the first time that Briarwood parents have raised concerns about class sizes. As far back as mid-August 2012, they had made some of the same points. Relief, however, does not look promising for this year. Shawnee Mission School Board President Deb Zila said there are no classrooms available at the school to add a section and other remedies are difficult and costly to implement.

The district “continues to review and monitor staffing and classroom ratios across the district,” according to SMSD spokesperson Leigh Anne Neal, the same response given by Briarwood Principal Dr. Kent Peach. Superintendent Jim Hinson, only on the job since July, has announced that the district will hire a demographer to get information about boundaries and enrollment trends. Donna Bysfield, the school board member who represents the SM East area, said the Briarwood concerns are “an administrative action, not a BOE (board of education) action.”

Briarwood has added 82 students since 2010 bringing its enrollment to 590 this year. Few lower grade classes across the district reach the Briarwood size, so parents say it is a case of equity across the district.

State Rep. Stephanie Clayton, who is the parent of a fourth-grade student at Diemer Elementary in a class of 29, says class size is “a huge tipping point issue.” It is the number one education-related complaint she hears. Rep. Clayton has communicated with the Briarwood parents and district and has toured Briarwood recently and saw “first-hand that the school is bursting at the seams.” “I was blown away by how full the building was,” she said in a communication to a Briarwood parent.

The next Briarwood site council meeting has been moved so Dr. Hinson can attend, parents related.