ST. JACOB — The days of one grade per classroom have ended at St. Jacob Elementary School, and some parents are not happy about it.
This year, the school instituted a pilot program combining children of multiple grades in a single classroom.
Superintendent Leigh Lewis said the school, which has about 230 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade often has variable class sizes -- one year the first grade had 40 students, while the third grade had 29, she said. Teacher contracts require that once the class passes 35 students, it must be split into two classes.
With the flexibility of multi-grade classrooms, classes have been kept at about 23 students per classroom, Lewis said.
"We wanted it to be more equal and desirable for the families," Lewis said. "We felt we had a strong staff of very effective teachers ... we could successfully do this."
However, some parents are opposed to the idea.
Patty Rehg, whose daughter is in the first grade, chose to opt out and drive her daughter to another school in Troy every day rather than put her in a multi-grade classroom.
Parent Michael Neace also is opposed to the plan. He has a child in middle school, two in elementary school and one about to start kindergarten. His family does not have the schedule flexibility to drive to Troy, so he said they are "making the best of it."
"We were happy with the single grades the way they were," Neace said. "Our kids were doing just fine ... I think the parents who have young kids about to start in the district want to have a single-grade option."
Chad Kunz has two children in grade school and one at the middle school. He said since multi-grade classrooms started at St. Jacob, some classwork has suffered.
"They'll run into stretches where they're doing the same thing as they did last year," he said. "It's not benefiting the older kids in the class, and they don't advance like they should."
Rehg said her daughter is doing well in first grade, and would not be challenged by a classroom combined with kindergarteners. But it is difficult to make the drive to Troy each morning, she said. Kunz dismissed the school-choice option outright.
"It's a bunch of crap," he said. "We have a brand new school here and there was nothing wrong with the traditional grade system for all those years."
Rehg began talking to other parents and residents, and during the weekend gathered more than 200 signatures on a petition she tried to present to the Triad school board Monday.
However, she said the board would not accept the petition unless she got more signatures from school families. About 40 families with kids in the schools were represented, she said.
"We wanted to know, what is the magic number we need to present this to you?" Rehg said. "We don't understand ... This is the board for this community, and this is what we want."
Board members could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Rehg said she was told the board would examine test scores to see how kids are doing, but she feels that will take too much time. "You might find out it's not working, but that's too late for my kid," she said.
St. Jacob has historically had high test scores -- in fact, St. Jacob has several times been the highest-scoring school in the county. Last year, 94.4 percent of St. Jacob students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT.
"The kids are getting good instruction, and 23 is a desirable number of kids in a classroom," Lewis said. "The students are making progress."
But that is part of why Rehg and other parents have protested. "If this was really a beneficial program, they would implement it in the other schools," Rehg said. "If it's so good for kids, why aren't they doing it in Troy?"
Rehg said she intends to get more signatures so she can re-present the petition to the school board.
Lewis said that if asked, she will recommend to board members that they keep the program for now. She pointed out that many sports programs are successfully conducted in multi-grade groups.
"We have surveyed our parents and class size is important to them," Lewis said. "If (single-grade classes) become more important to them, then we might reconsider ... I would certainly like to hear from parents who have visited the classrooms and seen how the students are interacting. There is a lot to be gained by education in a setting that provides variety and exposure."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.