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Combined classes concern N.K. parent

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Tim Giesbrecht is concerned about combined classes.

The parent of a Donwood School student submitted a petition to the River East Transcona School Division at its June 4 meeting, presenting alongside a half-dozen other concerned parents.

"We’re not opposed to the principle of combined (classes in) schools — we just don’t want it used as the norm as opposed to the exception," said Giesbrecht, citing examples where unusually large or small registration numbers in certain grades would result in combined classes.

Giesbrecht said in Donwood’s German program, there are five teachers for six classes. With one of his children set to enter Grade 3 in the fall and enter a combined class, he is hoping for change as opposed to hoping his son gets into the Grade 3/4 class as opposed to the Grade 2/3 class, which would rehash material.

"Between Grades 2 and 6, every class is combined," he said. "Because, on average, we have fewer students per teacher than other schools, they (RETSD) have to balance out teachers across all schools in the school division. They do this juggling act and basically, what happens is combined classes are the result in many, many cases."

Giesbrecht said from talking to other parents who have students in combined classes, he has gleaned that some students hear some material duplicated while missing other material entirely.

"They may skip over a section of timetable or they may learn things all over again," he said.
Giesbrecht blamed Education Minister Nancy Allan over her implementation of the 20K3 program, which caps class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 to 20 students by 2017. He feels it will particularly weaken immersion programs like German ones at Donwood and Princess Margaret School.

"The school has to figure out how to get less students in the grade, so then they have to shift them over to a different class, which may have fewer students," he said. "It’s really exacerbating the problem."

Allan, who said she has received a letter from Giesbrecht, responded by noting students in combined classes perform as well or better than students in single-grade environments. She added the key to the 20K3 initiative is allowing teachers to give more attention to their students, whether the class consists of more than one grade level or not.

"The whole class-size initiative is about providing an opportunity for our youngest students to have more one-on-one time with teachers," she said. "All students learn at different levels and different rates — that’s why it’s important that we have this kind of initiative.

"The fewer people in that classroom, the better young people are going to do. Whether the class is combined or not, the class-size initiative is going to help those young people succeed."

RETSD spokeswoman Wanda McConnell said in an email that, after listening to the presentations and receiving the petition, trustees referred the matter to a senior administration team who will report back at the board’s June 18 meeting. The division offered no further comment until after the meeting.

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