The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Class Sections Added Mid-Semester

On Tuesday, October 23, the school added an additional class of World Literature, World Studies and Survey of Composition and Literature in order to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio of these subjects, ensuring higher quality of learning. Freshmen and sophomores were asked to move from their original classes to these new classes.

History teacher Kelly Coble teaches the new World Studies class, English teacher Abigail Christensen teaches the new World Literature class and English teacher Zoe Beltz teaches the new Survey class. The main incentive of the decision was to ensure that students would have a reduced student -to-teacher ratio, especially in the freshmen and sophomore classes.

“While it feels like one or two people here and there, it really is a huge difference in the classroom,” English Department head Keren Robertson said. “We really try to keep those lower grades small because there is such a small transition in social skills. The choices we’ve made as a school and as the English Department is to preference smaller classes in the lower grades because it gives them more of a foundation.”

The school is usually able to achieve low student -to-teacher ratios every year (20:1 in Survey, 25:1 in World Literature and 25:1 in World Studies) despite a higher projected enrollment of freshmen. The projection of the number of students attending Los Altos in the fall is estimated through the number of eighth graders attending middle schools that would be expected to enroll at LAHS. It does not account for students going to private schools or those who are moving to a different district. This is why, at the beginning of the year, the school usually experiences an attrition where anywhere between 15 to 30 students do not show up. Therefore, projections made in May are not necessarily accurate and can vary in August when students do show up.

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“Every year we get a projected enrollment, kids who are coming in through the system of the kids coming through the elementary schools, through the middle school, through the private schools how many kids will come,” Robertson said. “Some years you’re right, other years fewer students end up showing up, or some kids go to private schools or people move, move out of district. This was a really weird and unusual year with many more kids. We couldn’t have planned for it.”

Prior to the beginning of the school year, the school was hoping for an attrition of students. However, when the school counted the number of students to report to the state after five or six weeks of school, freshmen and sophomore classes were still at high student-to-teacher ratios – Survey was at a 24:1 ratio, while World Studies and World Literature were at about 29:1. At this point, the school decided that extra sections of World Literature, World Studies and Survey of Composition and Literature were needed in order to give students rewarding educational opportunities.

Even though the idea of creating an extra section was brought up in May during the site allocation, Principal Wynne Satterwhite did not ask the district for more money for another section in May because she thought that attrition would be enough to offset the high projection of incoming freshmen.

“We had permission [from the district] … but we were still waiting,” Satterwhite said. “I don’t like getting to the end of the year and having 15 kids in a class. I don’t think that’s very wise and at the end of the year, when you don’t have students, that means teachers have to go away and that’s not fun … And it’s also a really tough budget year and we didn’t want to use money we didn’t need so we were trying to be very conservative.”

However, after evaluating the number of students in the classes, Satterwhite thought it was necessary to ask the district for funding for the new sections, which the district was willing to give.

“In May, we only can guess on enrollment,” Superintendent Dr. Barry Groves said. “These numbers vary from year to year … Each year we usually add, move or subtract a class after the start of the year to accommodate enrollment and needs. With over 400 sections, this is not a bad success rate.”

Funding came solely from the district. The MVLA Parent Foundation, which usually funds class size reduction in freshman math and English classes, did not fund these extra classes. The foundation did deliver funds for what they normally support, but it was still necessary to get funds for the extra sections. Social studies courses and World Literature, unlike Survey Composition, do not get any backing from the Parent Foundation. After the district granted permission, the school prolonged making the classes since students were in the middle of projects and units, and a switch would have confused them. Students were chosen based on schedule availability and openings. Satterwhite and Assistant Principal Perla Pasallo made the schedule in just three days.

In the end, although the decision was not ideal, it will have a positive impact on underclassmen in the school.

“Change in your freshman year is really hard and in a perfect world, this is not ideally when we would have done this switch,” Satterwhite said. “But in the long run, knowing that we had three quarters of school left to go and that the harder curriculum is coming up, it made more sense to make theses changes and make kids into smaller class sizes so that they would have a better academic experience … Our whole purpose was to increase the educational opportunities for students.”

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