Does Sulphur Springs Independent School District need so many teachers? That was a question posed this week to the News-Telegram by a reader who noted the Academic Excellence Indicator System report from the Texas Education Agency lists the student-teacher ratio in the city’s school district at 13:1.
The question came as supporters and opponents alike prepared to go to the polls Saturday to cast their votes in a proposed $48.4 million bond election.
Voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the SSISD Administration Building, 631 Connally St. Turnout is expected to be high — a total of 1,726 votes were cast in early voting, far above the norm for any school-related issue. In the last major bond election, held in 2004 when a $33.5 million bond proposal was voted down, there were 1,311 early votes in that election.
If the bond passes, the district would build a new and bigger middle school, move all third and fourth grade students to the existing middle school, and close Austin Elementary, which is 70 years old. Students in that school would go to either Bowie, Lamar or Travis, where all first and second grade students would attend classes.
School officials say the middle school and elementary campuses are all crowded.
But earlier this week, an e-mail questioned whether the district had too many students or too many teachers.
“The state max [student to teacher ratio] is 22:1 for grades 5 and below. We are half that,” they wrote in the e-mail. “With only 13 kids to every 1 teacher of course it will seem there are not enough classrooms. (And it can’t be for the fact that smaller classes get better instruction. According to the state report our system is only at acceptable, not recognized but acceptable.) But if we even came closer to a more conservative ratio of say 17:1 then there would not be an issue of no classrooms. Are we shooting for a one on one?”
While the numbers don’t lie, they also don’t come close to telling the whole story.
What the report does not explain is that the count of educators is not just classroom teachers but all professionals employed by the district, including nurses, counselors, specialists like reading recovery and reading intervention teachers, special education teachers and others.
“The 318 teachers on the Academic Excellence Indicator System consist of regular classroom teachers on eight campuses as well as teachers for state and federal mandated programs,” Bolton explained.
Those professionals include:
- Special education
- Content mastery
- A teacher for the visually impaired
- Alternative Education Programs
- Response to intervention
- Special reading
- English as a second language and bilingual
The count also includes teachers for technology, vocational programs, band, art, and elementary music and the district’s Strings program.
In some cases, the district receives grant funding to pay for specialists mandated by law.
“Some of the required positions are to provide supplemental assistance for ‘at risk’ students and are provided through monies allocated for those specific purposes,” Bolton told the News-Telegram. “Those funds cannot be used for any other purposes.”
SSISD personnel have also been very successful in seeking out and applying for grants to offset the expense of mandated programs government officials won’t pay for.
“We fortunately have received millions of dollars through the years in order to provide needs that could not be covered with local, state and federal funds,” Bolton stated.
For example, two years ago the district was able to use close to a quarter of a million dollars in grants to expand its newest campus when enrollment far exceeded its capacity.
When the Early Childhood Learning Center opened in 1997, it was designed to hold 400 students. This year, enrollment is at 581. When the district added eight classrooms at the school two years ago, a Head Start grant of $229,000 helped pay for that addition.
Bolton also takes exception to the suggestion that an “academically acceptable” rating for the district indicates a lack of quality in the education it provides students.
“The AEIS report shows much more than the district rating of ‘acceptable,’” Bolton noted. “I hope folks realize there are two exemplary campuses (ECLC and Lamar Elementary) and three recognized campuses (Bowie and Travis elementary schools and Douglas Intermediate) in SSISD,” Bolton noted. “In 2007-2008, Bowie was one of only two campuses in Texas to be designated as a Title I National Distinguished campus. Lamar has been recognized at the state level for several years for being exemplary as well as being a State Distinguished Title I campus.”
The other campuses — the high school, middle school and Austin — are all rated academically acceptable. But the middle school also received “Gold Performance” recognition for reading and writing, as well as attendance.
At the high school, the student body as a whole scored well above the standard set by the state in reading and English language arts, social studies, mathematics and science. Their worst performance was in science, where 70 percent of all students met or exceeded the standard of 45 percent. In math, 72 percent passed, well over the 50 percent standard. The standard for social studies was 65 percent — SSHS saw 92 percent pass. And in reading and language arts, 94 percent met the standard, which the state set at 70 percent.
“For 25 consecutive years, the high school won District Academic Sweepstakes in UIL competition,” Bolton added. “The middle school received the same recognition for 15 years. SSISD is more than ‘acceptable’ in many ways. Students continue to receive awards and honors in all areas — academic, athletic, fine arts and vocational. That doesn’t just happen by chance, but through the combined efforts of caring and hard working teachers, coaches, aides, administrators and all other staff.”
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