Keeping the student-to-teacher ratio low in the early years of a student's education has been a goal for many school districts including the School District of Rhinelander. One of the reasons for keeping the ratio low is that smaller class sizes are reflected in better state standardized test results showing the students are learning the material better. This is especially important in the case of low income students, according to school officials.
At the March 9 meeting of the instruction and accountability committee, Rachel Hoffman, the district's director of teaching, learning and technology, explained how the district is taking advantage of state funding to accomplish this goal.
The district is required to report to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction each year on how the funds are spent, as well as class sizes and other factors, and Hoffman's report came from that data.
Hoffman told the committee that for years Rhinelander has used a state funding program known as Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) to keep class sizes small in grades K-3 by using the funding to hire additional teachers. In 2015, the state introduced a similar program known as Achievement Gap Reduction that officially replaced SAGE during the 2017-18 school year.
AGR differs little from SAGE, as both utilize the same solutions to close the achievement gap between students, particularly those from low income homes. Both SAGE and AGR have three options, keeping class rations to either 18 students to one teacher or 30 students to two teachers, instructional coaching for teachers and one-on-one tutoring for struggling students. A district must chose at least two of the three options to qualify for AGR funding. SAGE had additional requirements that were not kept when DPI switched to AGR.
According to Hoffman, SDR utilizes all three AGR options to varying degrees based on the needs of the individual classrooms.
"We get about $205 dollars for each student in both of those buildings," Hoffman said. "And we get about $2,300 per low income student in both of those buildings."
Up until this school year, only Crescent and Pelican schools were eligible for AGR funding. At the start of this school year, when Central was transitioned back to being an elementary school and student population was redistributed between the four elementary buildings, it resulted in a reduction in AGR funds to the district.
According to information presented to the committee, the district received $764,654.96 in the 2018-19 school year while netting $558,801.88 in the 2019-20 school year. This resulted in a $205,853.08 reduction in AGR funding.
Hoffman's information showed that AGR aid provides about $2,388.04 per low income student at Pelican and Crescent.
She told the committee that the district is able to use the student counts for the two buildings in the grades K-3 and use that to figure out how to get to the required student-to-teacher ratio on the funds that will be provided from the state.
"Because we lost between 100-120 students from Pelican and Crescent in grades 1, 2, 3," Hoffman said. "That is taking the students this year and comparing it to last year."
She said the district knew there would be some students lost in the shuffle to make Central a K-5 school again. "We just didn't know it would be that much," she said.
Hoffman also provided the breakdown of the two schools.
According to her report, Crescent had 13 teachers for 230 students in grades K-3, resulting in an average class size is 17.6 students for a student to teacher ratio of 18:1. Pelican has 10 teachers for 169 students in grades K-3 for an average class size of 16.9 students for a 17:1 student to teacher ratio.
At Crescent, class size ratios are within the AGR guidelines at the grade 1 level while Pelican uses it for grades K, 1 and 2. At both schools, the funding provides additional coaching and one-to-one tutoring on both Math and English in grades K-3.
Hoffman said that after this school year, Central and Northwoods Community Elementary School may be eligible for AGR funding.
While AGR is intended to help close the achievement gap between students from low income families and the rest of their peers, all steps funded by AGR helps all students do better n standardized testing, she noted.
Following the instruction and accountability committee, the operations and strategic planning committee met to consider the following items:
Approved a travel and fundraising request for RHS band and choir students.
Approved amending the building lease for the Hodag Connections Learning Program so the lease would expire at the end of the school year.
Approved an agreement with the Rural Virtual Academy Consortium.
Approved revisions to various bylaws and policies.
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