, Derry, New Hampshire

September 5, 2013

Derry school officials ponder class size

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — The new school year is underway and officials here are now looking at some of the early enrollment numbers in several of the district’s elementary schools.

Superintendent Laura Nelson told School Board members the new year kicked off on a successful note with only a few glitches.

Classes began across town with a total of 3,472 students in elementary and middle schools.

The new year is putting a squeeze on some classrooms, Nelson said, where numbers are a bit higher than officials would like.

“There are some large classes and pockets,” Nelson said.

She cited fifth-grade classrooms at Ernest P. Barka Elementary starting the year with several rooms over the preferred 25 or less of students.

At Grinnell Elementary, there are also some higher numbers, too, with two fifth-grade classrooms at 27 and 29 students, respectively.

It’s still early in the game, Nelson said, and numbers can change as the weeks go on, with new students coming in or others leaving the district.

As part of the work to streamline enrollment trends and learn what those trends are, Nelson said school officials will meet with town staff to talk about Derry’s building situation, where the building permits are, what neighborhoods may see the most growth or where new development is likely to be.

All those factors help decide where children will be living and in what district. That information then trickles down to the specific schools in those areas.

“All these decisions will impact what we do,” Nelson said.

School Board Chairman Brenda Willis said Derry did a town-wide redistricting of its schools about eight years ago involving the town, schools and bus company.

All the details about where developments were being planned and how many potential students would come from a certain neighborhood were taken into consideration to figure out who would go to what school.

It is a long, tough process, Willis said. Before any more talk about future redistricting would happen, she said, officials should try to figure out where the problems are now while planning for the future.

“The numbers change often, schools are still registering,” she said.

Grinnell is the town’s oldest school. Having too many students in a classroom is not desirable as the school’s classrooms are smaller.

Willis said officials would revisit the Grinnell numbers in a few weeks to scope out the best solution there. It’s all part of the district’s long-range planning goal of anticipating what the years ahead will look like for Derry students.

“We will look at where the students are, and how best to serve them,” Willis said.