Crowded classrooms irk East parents

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By Mercy Lopez

Exactly how overcrowded are classrooms in the Las Vegas City Schools district remains unclear, but one thing clear is a group parents unhappy with the class sizes at Los Niños Elementary.

On Thursday evening, four parents expressed their frustration with the district’s response to class sizes at the east side elementary, particularly the school’s third grade immersion classroom, during a board meeting. The parents encouraged the district to seek another teacher to help ease the large enrollments in both the second and third grade immersion classrooms.

The district did not immediately respond to the parents’ concerns during the meeting.

Tuesday morning, superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez said the class size remains within state statutes. She said the school site staff configured their educational program based on what they thought would best benefit students after reviewing student data as part of a systemic approach to address student needs.

McNellis-Martinez said, “I will continue to monitor how it is working. I’ve had conversations and visits to the classroom in question … the teacher feels comfortable and confident the kids will receive their needed instruction. I’m allowing instructional staff to continue on their plan without prejudging the outcome.”

McNellis-Martinez said each school site was given a budget, and it was up to principals and their staffs to figure out the best way to align their students and teachers to best benefit the instructional program. She added that the district is still in compliance with state statutes regarding class load sizes at all school sites.

McNellis-Martinez said, “We have an environment that is conducive with learning.”

The board was originally set to hear an update on district-wide class sizes and enrollment during the Thursday evening meeting, but McNellis-Martinez asked that the item be removed as the district’s presentation was not complete in time for the meeting. Board member Luis Ortiz voted against removing the item.

Parents Liz Probst, Desiree Maddux, Lynn Padilla, and Ramona Montoya addressed the board about their concerns regarding overcrowding at the school site. Probst said Gary Sena’s third grade classroom has roughly 30 students, and district administration needs to find a way to hire another teacher to deal with the overload in both the third grade and second grade immersion classrooms. The district previously said the class sizes were allowable within the state statues.
The overcrowding of classrooms in not new information for the board as board member Luis Ortiz ex-pressed his concern in overcrowding at school sites during last month’s board meeting. He also said his son transferred to North Star Elementary, a West Las Vegas School district site, toward the beginning of the year because of the crowded conditions at Los Niños Elementary.

In a text message sent Monday evening to an Optic reporter, Ortiz said, “That was an impressive remarkable presentation by the Los Niños parents. They, like all children, in large and overcrowded classes, are imploring us to do the right thing and hire more top-notch competent teachers. I truly hope our kids district-wide will benefit.”

On why Ortiz’s son, Aaron Emilio, opted to attend West schools, the elder Ortiz said, “Due to small class size, breakfast in the classroom, choices at lunch, clean playground and school and — best part — learning in two languages and awesome teaching.”

Parents said they are concerned about the large classroom sizes at the school due to the uniqueness of the immersion program. They said they felt students’ needs were not being met; yet, the district requires parents to sign a letter of commitment when enrolling their child in the program.

They added that the district does not commit on its end to providing enough teachers for the large class sizes. Probst said Los Niños’ principal, David Baca, and his staff have worked with the parents, but have been  unable to alleviate the class size problems.

In their presentation, the parents told the board, “As a board and administrative team for this school you approve the policies and procedures, the budget, and the information that goes to the parents. In doing so each of you are responsible for the commitment you asked from us as parents.”

They added, “As a board and the administrative team responsible for the quality of education in this district, ask for such a commitment of the parents, students and teachers of this community and not provide them with the proper tools and resources to do their jobs? Please help us ensure that our children, committed to this dual language program, receive the education they deserve.”

The group was joined by a handful of other parents outside the meeting who told an Optic reporter many parents are afraid to speak on record in fear of retaliation against their children by district officials.