“When is enough enough?”
That’s the question elementary teachers brought to the Ramona Teachers Association (RTA) Executive Board meeting last Thursday, and RTA President Donna Braye-Romero relayed their concerns to the Ramona school board.
“The teachers are feeling really under pressure and really overwhelmed by the expectations, by the number of children that are in the classes, by the pressure to try to teach two grade levels,” Braye-Romero told school trustees at their meeting Oct. 15. “This is the first time I’ve had to come and give a negative report or an unsettling report to the board, and so I just wanted to share with you that this stress is really, really out there, and I don’t know what the answer is.”
Concerns came from representatives of four of the district’s six elementary schools, particularly from those teaching combination classes in grades four through six, she said.
Ramona Community School, which uses the Montessori approach to education, has always had combination classes, where students in more than one grade share a classroom and teacher. That is not the case in the district’s other elementary schools.
“We would love to have no combination classes and 20 students per class,” Superintendent Dr. Robert Graeff said after the meeting. “Declining enrollment has really hit hard at the elementary schools, and we do not have nearly as much flexibility as we once had.”
A review of the number of combination classes in the elementary schools shows five at Hanson Elementary, three at Ramona Elementary, four at James Dukes, five at Mount Woodson, four at Barnett and nine at Ramona Community, which has always had combo classes, said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joe Annicharico.
Kindergarten through grade three classes have 21 students or less, while the average combination class size in grades four through six is 31, said Annicharico.
“One has 34,” he said. “The rest are 28 to 31.”
Based on the number of students in each school, those combination classes could be grades four and five or grades five and six.
According to district statistics, the number of combination classes this year is higher, but not significantly higher, than last year, said Annicharico.
The district provides professional development and preparation days for teachers of combinations classes, said Annicharico. Team teaching is one approach teachers of combination classes use, he noted.
“We give them as much support as we can,” he said.
“I have no doubt that the level of stress on teachers in any school district this year is greater than ever before,” said Graeff. “The targets for student achievement continues to increase by the No Child Left Behind standards, and the budget support is lower than previously, and in Ramona class sizes are inching up across the board.”
“The state and the federal government continue to add more and more to the teachers’ plate, and they take nothing off,” said Braye-Romero. “Teachers are at a breaking point, not just in Ramona, but in the state of California.”