New Paltz teachers say 1st grade class sizes too large, ask board to reconsider cuts

At the regular meeting of the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education on Wednesday, June 21, several teachers from Duzine Elementary School told the board they believe the BOE is not standing by its commitment to keeping class sizes as small as promised in recent budget discussions.

Members of the New Paltz United Teachers (NPUT) organization were at the meeting wearing their signature red t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Respect” on the back.

Rachel Busher, with 31 years of teaching experience in the district, said she was at the meeting to speak on behalf of the five- and six-year-olds she worked with this year. She said it had been an “extremely turbulent” year at Duzine, in part because of multiple involuntary staff changes issued that were later revoked but then replaced by different reassignments. Busher is also concerned that with one class section for this age group slated for elimination next year, class sizes will increase from 20 to 23, negatively impacting the students in first grade; a year that is the most important, she added, in terms of their development of reading and writing skills and building a foundation for mathematics.

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Busher asked the board to reconsider restoring the number of first grade sections to seven, from the six currently planned for the 2017-18 school year. Busher also noted that “an unprecedented number” of the students she worked with in kindergarten this year, who are moving up as part of that first grade class, also have “exceptionally high” special needs, which will further tax the teachers who will be handling those larger classes and affect the attention given to all the students.

Arielle Chiger, second grade teacher at Duzine Elementary School and president of NPUT, minced no words in speaking to the board indicating the organization’s frustration with the current situation at Duzine. The juggling of teacher assignments and the larger class sizes not only do not serve student needs, she said, but the position of the teachers’ union is that the reassignments — given to every teacher in a role of leadership with NPUT, Chiger added — were made in retaliation after a statement was issued by NPUT calling the board and administrations’ actions into question.

Although these reassignments were later retracted and an apology made along with a statement of willingness to follow contractual obligations, the same thing occurred, Chiger said. “Only this time it was different teachers being involuntarily transferred and requests for transfers ignored,” violating provisions of the teacher contracts.

While NPUT recognizes the right of the schools superintendent to reassign teachers at will, she added, there is a contractual process to be followed. “We’re questioning the intent behind the reassignments, and what we feel is the unprofessional and inappropriate way this all was handled, as it exemplifies what we see as a calculated and deliberate process on the part of the administration with little regard for students and no respect for teachers.”

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