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Class size a growing concern in Lynn middle schools

The new Lynn superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. (File Photo | Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Class sizes throughout Lynn’s middle schools are a growing concern citywide.

Many of the core content classrooms have about 30 students to one teacher, said Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. As of Jan. 1, there are 1,248 students at Breed, 1,320 at Thurgood Marshall, and 664 students at Pickering, according to data from the city’s public school administration.

“Meeting the needs of every student, the way that every teacher wants to, requires a lot of individual attention and a lot of data collection and reflection,” said Matthew Bollen, an eighth-grade science teacher at Marshall. “We need to see and determine where our students are and where they are progressing in the classroom, and that requires more time with that many students. Every night you see countless teachers still in the building after hours in order to do this.”

Bollen teaches four classes a day, with a total of 120 students. His class sizes range from 28 to 32 students, which isn’t that bad compared to recent years, he said. Bollen, who has been teaching in Lynn for seven years, said he remembers one year when his smallest class was 32 students.

Marshall currently has 447 sixth-graders, 466 seventh-graders, and 407 eighth-graders, according to the LPS data. At Breed, there are 535 sixth-graders 454 seventh-graders, and 439 eighth-graders. Pickering has 245 sixth-graders, 214 seventh-graders, and 205 eighth-graders.

The most dramatic influx, comparing the current school year to last year’s, was with the sixth-graders at Breed Middle School. The school’s sixth-grade class gained 83 more students this year, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Not having enough adequate school buildings, the city’s financial troubles, and the rising number of fifth-grade students are the biggest explanations for the growing class sizes. There are currently 1,290 fifth-graders in Lynn who will move on to middle school next school year, according to the LPS data.

“Yes, we have a building problem and, yes, we have a large class size problem,” said School Committee member Michael Satterwhite. “Only way to fix it is to build more schools. With our current number of fifth-graders, the middle school numbers are just going to continue to skyrocket.”

At a school committee meeting in December, Mayor Thomas M. McGee shared the bad news that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) rejected the city’s proposal for a new Pickering Middle School. McGee told the committee members it was likely due to Lynn’s financial challenges.

“The class size numbers are a huge concern and it certainly makes the case in why we need two new middle schools,” said state Sen. Brendan Crighton. “With the city’s financial troubles, among other things, we were not able to advance the new school project. This is not a problem that is going away and residents need to rally around providing classroom space to accommodate students.”

Bollen said the school district is working hard to support teachers and he feels as though they are getting their feedback and listening to it. Temporary ways for teachers to mitigate the overcrowding include breaking into small groups and using laptops and technology to their advantage, said Tutwiler.

“I haven’t heard directly from any middle school students with their experience, but I can tell you my worry for them is some students struggling with material will raise their hands and advocate for themselves and some won’t,” said Tutwiler. “For those students, I imagine the feeling of being lost in the shuffle is real for them.”

He said the administration is very concerned with the overcrowding, which is why one of the district’s improvement goals is to continue addressing it.

“I really believe that schools rise or fall on the backs of teachers and, while I would be the first to admit that 30 or more in a core content class is high, I remain impressed at the length our teachers are willing to go to meet the individual needs of our students,” said Tutwiler.

 

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