Enrollment and Class Sizes Causing Concern at Bedford High School

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Increased student populations throughout the system, but particularly at Bedford High, are affecting class sizes as well as staff and space needs and program capacity, said Superintendent Jon Sills. At their October 23 meeting,Sills recommended that the School Committee consider budgeting for additional staff at BHS, where student numbers are higher than anticipated and class sizes are exceeding manageable numbers.

Saying that Bedford High was built for a student population of 850, Sills cited enrollment at a current population of881, representing 54 more students than a 2009 New England School Development Council (NESDEC) enrollment projection study anticipated. Starting in 2015, projections of above 900 students are expected.

Even the now-modest over-population of 881 is having impacts on class-size. This year, there are 49 classes with over 25 students,a classroom number that exceeds the best-practice maximum. Three of these 49 classes have over 30 students, and 30 of those classes are  in the core curriculum.

Another worrisome statistic is that 26 “Level Three” classes have over 18 students. Level Three class enrollments are deliberately kept at 18 or lower so that students can receive a greater degree of teacher support.

Classroom over-population has a physical component as well. Sills said that in some cases students are practically sitting on top of each other because the classroom they are in was originally configured to accommodate a smaller group.

Additionally, teacher workloads of over 120 students—a situation that is becoming more common—makes it harder to prepare lessons, to grade student assignments, or to provide optimum levels of assistance to individual students.

School Committee member Ed Pierce asked Sills how many full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) would be needed to resolve current class size issues.

Sills answered that 2.6 FTEs—which represents the assignment of part-time staff in multiple areas—are needed in these departments:

  • .8—1.0 FTE in Social Studies
  • .4 in English Language Arts
  • .2—0.4 in Science
  • .2 in Foreign Language ( at a minimum)
  • .6 in the Guidance Counseling department

In addition, the faculty numbers in math are barely adequate now; it would be better to add a 0.2 FTE in that department as well.

One reason for the increased population at the high school is that the number of Hanscom student numbers has rebounded to 136, now that the base’s housing construction has been completed.

However, other drivers are suspected to contribute to the upswing as well.School Finance Director David Coelho pointed out multi-unit developments around town that have yielded more school-age children than expected. Hartwell Farms, for example, only half completed, has already resulted in15 additional students.

“We’ll probably see a bump when that development is done,” he said, although he believes that the students will be spread throughout the grade levels, rather than affecting one school in particular.

Coelho said that families with more children than anticipated have moved to Avalon Bay and into the apartment complexes on Middlesex Turnpike.Although birth rates and “in-migration” have slowed with the weak economy,Bedford’s school populations have generally increased with a spike at the high school and at certain grade levels at Lane and JGMS. Davis School numbers appear to be steady.