How Small is Too Small? School Board Looks at Classes with Low Enrollment Numbers

May 9, 2023

RUSSELL, Pa. – An oft-repeated phrase during the height of the pandemic was a desire for a “return to normalcy.” Now that normalcy is beginning to return, the Warren County School District is facing some familiar challenges.

During its regular meeting Monday night, the school board was presented with a report that hadn’t been necessary since 2019, class sizes with enrollments of 12 or fewer students. Through the use of federal dollars on staffing, the number of students choosing a virtual option, and the uncertainty of whether schools would even be in session, this report had become obsolete.

Now that those federal dollars are going away (must be spent by Sept. 30, 2024, under current guidelines) and most students are back to brick-and-mortar attendance, the district must begin to address whether enough students are enrolled in a class to justify offering it.

“I was shocked by the number of classes that were less than 12 across the board,” Board Vice President Donna Zariczny said. “When you look at this list and see the number of an English 12 College Prep, English 12 honors, reading foundations, journalism, I mean, some of these classes are high need. They’re normal classes that need to be offered for our students. So I was just shocked when I saw this.”

The report shows classes offered to grades 9-12 at all four WCSD high schools that currently have 12 or fewer students enrolled for the 2023-24 school year. The report also includes those classes that are for Special Education or Learning Support students, which can have less than 12 students due to the unique needs of those students.

Zariczny said what she was most alarmed by was the number of regularly-offered core and elective classes that have so few students enrolled.

“If we look at the very first chart, the bottom line, senior band nine students, then you look at each one, the next one, one student. And then the very bottom one senior band 11 students,” Zariczny said. “You know, there’s obviously a variety of things going on here. And I mean, physics alone. I’m seeing it on multiple levels with physics. That’s a basic class, right? I mean, a higher level basic class that should be in every high school, but we’re not even having enough to support it in one.”

Superintendent Amy Stewart said she expects some of the classes to lose enrollment as the summer progresses as well.

“Typically, the numbers that we’re looking at now in these classes will go down,” Stewart said. “Well, some will go up, some will go down in all fairness. But a lot of the higher courses will go down because then kids will decide on a different enrollment.”

When asked if the administration’s recommendation was to move forward with the low-enrollment classes as they are, Stewart said that is the current plan for the upcoming school year.

“At this point, yes. This is Eric’s (Mineweaser) recommendation in terms of going forward and getting through this next school year,” Stewart said. “Here’s where we are, right? We’re in the last year of ESSER dollars and we want things to be smaller. That was the intent. We don’t have a master facility plan solution in place yet, you have to provide some sort of relief or remedy in this situation. And we are talking about moving back to an 8-period day, moving away from that 7-period day. But you would not do that at this point of the school year, that decision would need to be made back in December. I mean, so next year’s schedule is going to be completely different for a lot of different reasons.”

The report was presented on the meeting agenda as an item for board approval. However, after Stewart said that approval wasn’t absolutely necessary at this point, the original motion for approval was withdrawn and left for future review.

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