Educators Seek Flexibility with Class Size Amendment

Woodrow Wilson Middle School
Woodrow Wilson Middle School cannot expand because of its location.
TAMPA (2010-2-18) -

At one school in Tampa, teachers and administrators warn that “hard caps” on class sizes could create chaos.

Some Florida lawmakers want to take a second look at the constitutional amendment that limits class size in schools.

Right now, class sizes are determined at the school-wide level. But this fall, the constitutional amendment required every class to fall within limits of 18 students in grades K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 in high school.

Wilson Middle School in South Tampa already is maxed out. With 640 students, this school can't expand any further. That's because it's nestled in the middle of a neighborhood, surrounded by historic houses.

Faced with a growing number of students each year, Principal Stephanie Woodford has had to resort to some creative measures to comply with class size limits.

“If the community gets bigger or more students start to come in, I don't know where they're going to go because they certainly couldn't come here,” she said.

“I'm already using half of a cafeteria and those kinds of things to serve the students. At some point something's going to have to give a little bit.”

Woodford said she believes in the class size amendment, but the hard cap concerns her.

“Principals are nervous, we're really nervous,” she said.

Seventh grade language arts teacher Greg Shafer says he’s seen the impact of smaller class sizes.

“I can do more things with fewer students, grouping is a little easier, getting around the students to see what they're doing is easier. A lot of things are easier when you have lower numbers,” he said.

In previous years, a new student meant only adding an extra desk to the classroom. Now, other demands weigh on administrators like Nicholas Tanis.

Tanis is the assistant principal for curriculum, meaning he's the one creating student schedules. He says hard caps could lead to students not getting the classes they need.

“You're kind of eliminating the options and eliminating me from being able to do the job that I was assigned to do,” Tanis said.

And while administrators know the full effect of the amendment, the same is not true for students.

Eighth grader Abby Sanchez says she doesn't really mind getting a schedule change.

But when Woodford asked what would happen if the class size limits prevented Sanchez from getting into an advanced science course, she changes her mind.

“I would want to be with all the other people who are smart,” Sanchez said.

For academically-motivated students, that's the issue: moving to a lower level class. It’s one reason administrators fear the hard cap will do more harm than good.

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