What is the Superintendent Doing?

Class Size Counts Meets with New FCPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand

On Wednesday, November 8th, Class Size Counts met with the new Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Dr. Scott Brabrand, to discuss class size issues including this year’s use of staffing reserve positions, class size inequities and FCPS Regulation 1302.1, which was designed to limit elementary school class sizes to 29 or fewer.

Dr. Brabrand shared his vision for FCPS – “Excellence, Equity and Effectiveness” plus “Joy.”  He said that his FY 2019 Proposed Budget will not include further across-the-board class size increases nor will it include additional funds for student programming. His first priority for FY 2019 is raising salaries of administrators, teachers and other FCPS employees, consistent with the FY 2019 FCPS Fiscal Forecast.

Over the last decade, the FCPS School Board repeatedly voted to increase class sizes, and began using “staffing reserve” positions to mitigate the impact of these changes.  Some staffing reserve positions are used to hire special education teachers and aides.  Others are used for general education, because FCPS under-estimated the number of students at a school and/or a principal made a compelling case for needing additional teachers, even if the enrollment projections were accurate. Further compounding the situation, some teachers are not returned back into the staffing pool when a school has been given excessive class teacher positions, thus further aggravating the teacher vacancy issue in FCPS.

In response to questions by CSC Co-Chairs Jo Neuber & Dana Jackins, Dr. Brabrand and Region 5 Assistant Superintendent Frances Ivey stated that there was $32 million (470 positions) in this year’s staffing reserve, and 369 positions (roughly 80%) were used for general education classes.   It is unclear how many of those 369 positions were attributable to inaccurate enrollment projections and how many were allocated solely to reduce the number of very large classes in a school.

Under the last FCPS Superintendent, FCPS staff adopted Regulation 1302.1, which limits elementary school class sizes to 28 (Kindergarten) and 29 (Grades 1-6). However, Regulation 1302.1, Part VI, provides that principals can have classes that exceed these limits by obtaining approval from two assistant superintendents.   This year, FCPS reported that thirty-six (36) of its 138 elementary schools have overly large classes at or over 29 students per class; thus, 25% of elementary schools in FCPS have overly large classes above 29 students.

Dr. Brabrand explained that as a former principal, he believes in giving principals autonomy to establish class sizes in their school.  However, after hearing how some principals use that authority to create very wide ranges of class sizes in their schools, Dr. Brabrand indicated that perhaps FCPS needs to provide principals with training on how to use the teacher positions they were allocated.

Parents and teachers attending the CSC meeting also highlighted safety concerns with the many science lab classes that exceeded national safety guidelines of 24 students, and noted that one of their children was assigned to an AP Chemistry class with 34 students, and another had 32 students in his physics class.

Jim Jarvis, a retired science teacher and engineer who chaired the science departments at three FCPS high schools, echoed those sentiments and also explained how large science and other classes adversely affected the quality of a student’s learning experience.

Past FCAG President, Rebecca Goldin, summarized FCAG’s analysis of 2015 class size data, which showed that AAP classes were, on average, much larger than general education classes.  As a professor, she also commented on how teachers generally provide less attention to students in their large classes, and how large classes cause teachers to burn out.

Reducing the number of very large classes in FCPS will have many benefits, including reduced teacher attrition.  FCPS loses about 40% of new teachers in their first five years with FCPS.  Many more FCPS teachers leave after their fifth year.  Adverse working conditions – such as very large class sizes – are a major factor, according to FCPS and national surveys. CSC is glad that Superintendent Brabrand is not planning to propose further across-the-board increases in class size.  We hope that the School Board and FCPS Leadership team conclude that it’s time to also support transparency of class size data and eliminate the number of very large classes.

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In July 2017 the  new Superintendent was defined and confirmed: Scott Brabrand. CSC welcomes Mr. Brabrand and we will wait our turn to interface with him to understand his direction and agenda with regard to class size matters.

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Dr. Garza took several steps to address class size concerns:

  • On July 28, 2015, FCPS published Regulation 1302, which establishes new elementary class size standards and FCPS responses, including – if all else fails – the allocation of an additional aide or teacher position from the countywide staffing reserve to an elementary school with one or more large classes.
    FCPS Regulation 1302 applies to classes and instructional groupings for language arts, math, science and social studies.  It was adopted after Dr. Garza proposed and the School Board agreed to add $3.1 million in recurring funds and $0.8 million in one-time money to the FCPS staffing reserve for the 2015-2016 school year.  Under FCPS Regulation 1302, FCPS staffing reserve positions – perhaps including those not funded by the $3.9 million – will be allocated to schools whose principals comply with section III A of the regulation, which requires them to:
    • Evaluate and adjust the principal’s proposed classroom teacher position trades, resource trades and uses of grant proceeds that increase class sizes;
    • Consider creating multi-age or combination classes
    • Consider using school funds or region office funds to lower class size.
    In addition, Section III B of Regulation 1302 requires the FCPS HR Department and region assistant superintendents to “thoroughly examine” six factors in allocating staffing reserve positions.
    • Current use of school resources.
    • Current trades (including trades of positions and of instructional funds).
    • The number of students at each grade level.
    • The use of multi-age or combination classes within the school.
    • Available space in the building.
    • Time of year.
    The new FCPS regulation establishes both hard class size caps that are very similar to the existing Virginia state law caps and somewhat lower “standard” class sizes that trigger additional administrative scrutiny and the potential assignment of an aide, or, less often, a teacher from the FCPS staffing reserve.
    Regulation 1302 imposes hard class size caps of 28 students for Kindergarten classes (which have a teacher plus an aide), 30 students for grades 1 through 3, and 35 students for grades 4 through 6.  These FCPS class size caps are the same as Virginia’s class size caps for 1st through 6th grade except that all special education students are included in counting the number of students for the FCPS class size caps.  When classes exceed FCPS caps, principals “should” consider the actions listed in section III of the regulation, described above, to reduce class sizes.  “If these actions are deemed insufficient, a teacher should be allocated from the staffing reserve” and “students should be reassigned to balance class sizes to 27 or fewer.”
    In addition, the FCPS regulation establishes a class size “standard” for grades 1 through 6, which trigger additional scrutiny, where principals “should” consider using one of the strategies listed in section III (above) to reduce those class sizes.  If “these actions are deemed insufficient,” the school might be allocated an aide or – less often – an extra teacher from the staffing reserve.
    For 1st through 3rd grade classes that exceed 27 students, principals “should” try to reduce class sizes using the methods listed in section III of the regulation (see above).  If “these actions are deemed insufficient, then an instructional assistant should be allocated from the staffing reserve to support classes at that grade level.  If the number of students in classes above 27 totals 4 or more, a teacher should be added instead of an instructional assistant; students should be reassigned to balance class sizes to 27 or fewer.”
    The same approach is used when 4th through 6th grade classes reach 31 students.  Principals “should” consider using their authority and existing resources under section III, above, to reduce those 4th through 6th grade class sizes.  They should ask the region office for its funds to reduce class sizes.  And if those approaches “are deemed insufficient,” FCPS will allocate an extra aide from the countywide staffing reserve to “support classes at that grade level.”  If the number of students in classes above 30 totals 6 or more, “a teacher should be added instead of an instructional assistant” and “students should be reassigned to balance class sizes to 30 or fewer.”
    Regulation 1302 also incorporates some of the previously-discussed rules that Dr. Garza announced to ensure that schools did not get to keep extra teachers assigned based on inaccurate student enrollment projections;  excess positions will be taken from those schools based on actual enrollment through the 10th instructional day in the first grading period.
    These guidelines are only “applicable until the end of the second grading period.”
  • At School Board work session on Janary 29, 2015, FY 2016 Proposed Budget Recommendations to Address Large Classes was presented. Class size triggers and caps will be used to allocate extra teachers (caps) and aides (triggers) from the $3.1 million placeholder in the FY 2016 Advertised Budget.
  • FCPS has hired a consultant to improve the accuracy of projections for individual schools, which are used to allocate teacher positions.
  • Fall 2014, Dr. Garza personally analyzed class size data for every class in every elementary school, including:
    1. whether those classes were AAP Center or Local Level IV classes; and
    2. the number of special education students in each class, if any, who were excluded from the reported class sizes.
    3. View FY2014-2015 elementary class size report  ES Class Sizes – FY 2015 (1)
    4. In this report, some schools have classes with fewer than 17 students, while others have classes with 30 or more students.  Under the $3.1 million class size initiative in the FY 2016 Advertised Budget, FCPS will allocate an aide to a 1st through 3rd grade class with over 27 students and will allocate another teacher to that grade if class sizes exceed 30 students.  For 4th through 6th grade classes, an aide will be allocated if class sizes exceed 30 students and an additional teacher will be allocated if class sizes exceed 35 students.  For these purposes, all special education students will be counted as members of the class, even though they may not be considered members of the class for purposes of the state class size cap.
  • Spring 2015, FCPS reviewed principal requests to “trade” classroom teacher positions for administrative, resource or other positions.
  • This year, SY2015-2016, FCPS will start pulling (“claw back”) excess positions from schools with high projections, which positions presumably will be added to the staffing reserve. Click here to view CSC’s opinion on this new regulation.

One thought on “What is the Superintendent Doing?

  1. This regulation is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough. There are still loopholes – for example, principals only have to manage class size by grade so we can still have large classes.

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