CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jenny Lum, left, and Isaac Lu were kindergarteners at Kauluwela School in April. A new law reducing class size will affect thousands of young students.
New law lets
Hawaii principals are pleased
to see their class sizes drop
If just two more students enroll in kindergarten at Shafter Elementary this month, the school will be able to hire another teacher, and class size could drop to just 13 students in each classroom.
That's a sharp contrast with last year, when the number of kids in one classroom climbed to 32 at one point, according to Principal Karen Hill.
Class size will shrink in kindergarten through second grade under a new law that limits it to no more than 25 students.
"With the new system, there is a cap of 25 students," she said. "That's where it really helps us. As soon as I get 26 students, I will get a second teacher. Under the old system a kindergarten class could go as high as 34 students."
The state Reinventing Education Act of 2004 limits the size of public school classes to no more than 25 students each in kindergarten through second grade. The legislation allocates $2.1 million to hire 75 full-time teachers to lower class size in those grades. They will replace part-time teachers who used to help with the larger classes.
The legislation was passed over Gov. Linda Lingle's veto, and Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said late Monday that a decision had not been made on whether to release the money. But schools are gearing up for the change.
Wailupe Valley School Principal Jean Hartmann sent a letter home with parents before school let out suggesting they encourage friends and neighbors to enroll because the school needs just a few more first-graders to qualify for a second teacher under the new law.
"The call to the public is that if your children are at school age, enroll them as soon as you can, because each child equates to resources for that particular school," said Brian Mizuguchi, administrator for classification and compensation at the Department of Education.
Hill is confident that Shafter Elementary will get the extra kids by the time school starts, because it serves residents of the Fort Shafter military post and families often arrive in the summer. She expects the new law to make a big difference for her students.
"With a smaller classroom, you have more time with each kid," Hill said. "You can only call on them so many times when you have 30-some students. They'll get the individual attention. I wish they would do it for third through sixth grades."
In grades 3 through 6, the student-teacher ratio is set at 27-to-1, and there is no cap.
House Education Committee Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said legislators focused on reducing class size in the early grades because Superintendent Pat Hamamoto wants to ensure that all public school students are reading at the appropriate grade level by the time they reach third grade.
Even before the law was passed, classes in kindergarten through second grade were supposed to have a 20-to-1 student-to-teacher average ratio. But under the old allocation formula, a new full-time teacher wasn't brought in until there were at least 15 students to help fill the next class. That led to wide variation in classroom size in smaller schools.
Larger schools -- with at least 75 students in a grade -- avoided such fluctuations because enrollment could be spread among three or more teachers. Their class size typically ranged from 18 to 23 students.
"The benefit of Act 51 is to help those smaller elementary schools that have suffered under the old formula," Mizuguchi said.
Under the old system, classrooms in kindergarten through second grade that had 23 or more students qualified for a part-time teacher, a casual hire who worked roughly 15 hours a week, he said. Those positions are being eliminated. But part-time teachers who work with older grade levels will be retained, Hamamoto said yesterday.
While the change is good news for many kindergarten through second-grade classes, those that have 23 to 25 students will no longer get part-time teachers. Still the new system was welcomed by many educators.
At Aliiolani Elementary School in Kaimuki, Principal Gerald Teramae said about 32 students have signed up for kindergarten so far. Under the old allocation formula, they would qualify for one full-time and one part-time teacher. This year, they expect to have two full-timers, each with a classroom.
"A majority of our incoming kindergarten students don't go to preschool, so having small class size is an excellent opportunity for them," Teramae said. "We're really looking forward to it. There's nothing like having a certified, full-time teacher in a position."