The Bethlehem Central School District has decided to form a new Lab School committee after hearing concerns from parents last month about possible changes to the program due to low enrollment in some of the classes.
The district was proposing to cut a French, Spanish and math class from within the Lab School program because enrollment within those classes was low. The district’s policy is classes cannot be held with fewer than 17 students.
“One of the things I’ve conducted over the past two weeks is establishing a committee and announcing the committee structure,” said Superintendent Tom Douglas on Wednesday, April 22.
Parents had argued that canceling those classes would greatly disrupt the format of the Lab School. Throughout the year, students in the program are asked to write a term paper and give a long presentation. Teachers from the Lab School act as mentors and help students with their projects throughout the year. If the classes were canceled, those teachers would no longer be available and others would need to work with more students to make up the difference.
It was ultimately decided the district would at least try to keep the language teachers within the Lab School. This would be done by placing students from outside of the program within Lab School classes to reach the appropriate number of students to run the class.
Douglas said the new committee would consist of district administration, high school administration, possibly one representative from the middle school, representatives from the Bethlehem Central Teachers Association, and some limited involvement from parents and students.
The superintendent said he would be in charge of selecting the district representatives. Selected were Assistant Superintendent Jody Monroe and Special Education and Support Services Director Kathleen Johnson.
“Both have the curriculum and special ed components that the program would be responsible for, which is part of our core mission,” said Douglas.
Principal Mike Klugman was also selected as head of the BPA to chose two high school administrative representatives and one middle school representative, to be selected at a later date. There will also be six positions selected for the teachers union. Two will be from the Lab School, two would be from the general population, one spot for a K-12 supervisor and one for a guidance counselor.
The high school PTA was also asked to select two parents to sit on the committee. At least one parent would need to have a child in the Lab School program. There would also be positions for two high school students selected by the student senate, with preferably one student from the Lab School. However, at some points, the parents and students may be asked to leave the room when personnel or contract issues arise.
“From now until I think October, the committee would be working on the review of the Lab School program and the concerns we’ve heard and others that might be discussed at that time,” said Douglas.
Around November, the committee would go before the Board of Education with any recommendations or adjustments. Douglas said he would have a more specific charter within the next few weeks.
“No matter what, the issue we’ve been having with class size and enrollment would have to be looked at over that time, and recommendations would have to be made,” said Douglas.
The Board of Education agreed with the plan.
Parents had complained about a lack of transparency concerning the Lab School at the previous meeting. Douglas said this committee was meant to look at the program’s future needs and take into account the fiscal restraints of the district in the years ahead.
Douglas said part of the problem was because scheduling classes for the next year had been moved up. At this point, the schedules were nearly complete. After moving around some classes and sections, about 90.2 percent of all class requests have successfully been met.
“As a former high school principal, I can tell you that’s probably one of the higher numbers that I’ve ever seen, and I would be happy as a principal,” said Douglas. “I would always settle around 85 or 86 percent, and then everything else would be hand scheduled.”
Douglas said this would mean the French, Spanish and Math classes would stay in place for the 2014-15 school year, but staffing would need to be changed for the following year.
Board member Charmaine Wijeyesinghe said she was willing to go forward with the plan, but was concerned that some Lab School classes would be running below capacity. She was appreciative of the work done by Douglas to form the committee.
The consensus of the Board was the year was needed to allow time for the committee to convene and give their recommendations for 2015-16.