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BEA board adds fourth section for first grade

By Staff | Oct 18, 2010

Dale Brandsoy

“It’s a good problem to have,” says Blue Earth Area Superintendent Dale Brandsoy.

He was referring to an increase in enrollment in several grades at the BEA Elementary School.

When school started last month for the 2010-11 school year, the BEA board learned there were 108 students in kindergarten – more than were anticipated.

The board members responded to the situation by authorizing creation of another kindergarten section – making four in Blue Earth and one in Winnebago.

Now, at last Monday’s regular school board meeting, held in Delavan this month, the board learned of a similar situation in the first grade.

“We are up to 96 students in the first grade now, and are looking for two more soon,” Brandsoy told the board. “It seems as though every new family in the district had a first grader.”

That means there will soon be two sections of first graders with 25 students each, and one with 26. That is just too many, according to some board members.

“If you are asking us, I am in favor of hiring a new teacher,” Board member Jesse Haugh says.

Brandsoy says he and the administration and staff have discussed all of the various options, from adding aides to hiring a new teacher.

“The teachers say they will abide with the board’s decision,” Brandsoy reports. “They will manage as is, but it is difficult to give 26 kids the individual attention they need, at the first grade level.”

The board agreed and unanimously voted to add another section, which will lower the number of students to 19 in each of four sections.

Board members asked if there is space for the addition, and Principal Melissa McGuire says they will be able to rearrange some things and make room.

It will take at least 10 days to advertise the position, and hire a teacher, she adds.

Brandsoy says it would make a lot of sense to make the changes over the Education Minnesota (formerly MEA) break, later this month.

Board member Dawn Fellows questioned why a first grade section is being added, while the fifth grade also has 26 and 27 students per grade.

“Fifth graders are able to handle the classroom structure better,” Principal Kevin Grant says. “We can tell that by how well they do on the state tests.”

McGuire agreed.

“First graders are learning to read, and need a lot of individual attention,” she says. “Fifth graders are more used to learning as a class.”

There are 94 fifth grade students.

Overall, Brandsoy says the official student count at BEA stands at 1,216, up from 1,191 last year.

The district has seen a steady decline from a high of 1,368 in 2003-04 – until this current year when there is an upward bump.

It could be temporary, however, Brandsoy says. Projections for the next two years show a drop back to 1,180 for the 2012-13 year.

Brandsoy also reported another student statistic that is up.

“Our number of students using the Free and Reduced Meals is up this year,” he reports. “In fact, for the first time ever, we are up to having over 50 percent of our students, district-wide, taking part in the program.”

Brandsoy says most of the increase comes in the high school, while the middle school and elementary have stayed steady in their percentages.

“I guess it is a sign of our economic times,” he says. “But, we are glad that students who need the program are taking advantage of it.”

The Free and Reduced Meals program is federally funded, and is based on family income levels.