Will YOUR Class be Combined Next Year?

Three different German levels were combined this school year, so the question of why arose

Alexandra Figueroa, Staff Writer

Have you ever walked into a classroom, and noticed there’s a small number of students in the class? Then, the teacher addresses that there are different levels in the class, and you wonder why do you have to take a class with kids in a higher or lower level of the course?  

That issue arose in the World Language Department this school year (2018-2019) at Broad Run that caused disquiet to some of the students currently taking the upper German classes. German 4, German 5, and German AP were combined into one class period, and the known became foreign as their old German teacher, Matthew Talboo, transferred, and the new German teacher, Anne Friedrich, got hired.  

A question addressed was about the staffing of each language department. Broad Run is staffed at 84.9 teachers (including testing coordinator), which means that based on this staff number, Principal Dave Spage has to decide how many teachers are going to be for one course and how many teachers are going to be for another. According to Spage, this school year, Spanish teachers are staffed with 4.4 sections, French teachers with 1.8, Latin teachers with 0.8, and German with 0.6 sections. Each full class with a teacher has a value of 0.2. Generally, a teacher teaches 1.0 sections, which is five classes staffed with one full teacher.  

The number of staffing in each department is based on student enrollment, thus making it a “moving target” as Spage called it. Due to this, Spage said he can’t fill up all the 84.9 teaching positions, just in case a special situation happens, like students move out of the school district, or new students are welcomed into Broad Run, or in the last moment, students decide to take one course over another; this way, Spage has room to hire more teachers.  

However, it’s not always possible to prevent having to deny the course to some students. For example, in this school year, American Sign Language (ASL) had to be closed off, since it was “originally staffed at 1.4, full time teacher for five classes, plus two more classes (the extra .4),” said Spage. But because there weren’t any candidates for the extra ASL teaching position, by the end of July, Spage gave an extra class to Heather Burton, the ASL teacher, by reaching the maximum size limit of each of the classes (making her section 1.2 instead of 1.4). This way, all the students could take ASL, it just had to be in a larger class environment. The problem arose later when additional students wanted to take the class, but due to the lack of candidates, Spage had to deny them the request.  

Another example of how staffing changes based on student enrollment is the increasing number of students interested in German at Farmwell.  

“It’s good [that the numbers for German classes in Garmwell are increasing]. We’re ready for [larger number of students taking German next year at broad run], let’s say for example there are 30 students that want to take German 2 next year, that’s going to be fine. We’ll staff it, staffing in German will go up,” said Spage.  

Spage explained how this will most likely affect other language departments, but that it’s not isolated to the language departments. Whenever a student decides to take a certain elective, such as a foreign language, they are opting out of another elective. This means, that the number of enrollments has decreased for the other elective, so there’s no need to staff it at the number as the previous year. For example, if the staffing for German went up, then it could impact Latin or Spanish or any other language, meaning that Spanish (hypothetical example) wouldn’t be 4.4, but rather 4.0. It has to be acknowledged that as the number of staffing increases for one course or department, it means staffing decreases for another.  

At Broad Run, classes are combined most likely for two reasons. The first reason would be because there are not enough students enrolled in the class. which at the moment, the minimum requirement is more than 10 students in one class. At Broad Run, classes are staffed at an average of 24.9 students to 1 teacher, however, there are classes with less than that, since the minimum requirement for this year is to have more than ten students in one class. The second reason to combine classes would be because the teacher desires the levels in one course to be combined. 

An example for the latter is the Early Childhood course, which includes two levels; there are 14 kids that take Early Childhood 2, and 51 kids that take Early Childhood 1. Nancy Woods, the Early Childhood teacher, tends to request to have both levels in one class, which ideally for Ms. Woods would be no less than four Early Childhood 2 students but no more than eight. This is due the fact that Early Childhood level 2 students have experience that she would like for them to share with Early Childhood level 1 students and wants to provide the Early Childhood 2 students an opportunity for them to be team leaders.  

However, the administration made the decision to combine the levels of German due to the lack of students enrolled in the class. Compared to last year, there was a 20-25% decrease of number of students. Currently there are about 66 students enrolled in the course, according to the principal, David Spage. The exact numbers of enrollment cannot be provided due to enrollment being considered student personal records, and that cannot be shared with other students.  

Overall, AP German students has four students enrolled, while German 5 has ten, and German 4 has eight. The classes, according to the data given by the principal of Broad Run, David Spage, separately cannot be withhold the requirements. Spage explained that if the administration were to offer one class of 4 students (for German AP), then they would have to offer several other classes at 30 or 32 students, which would create disbalanced between courses.  

There are some students, however, that despite the numbers, disagree with the decision.  

“I don’t think this is the best decision they could have made, I feel like our opinions, as german students were kind of a bit pushed to the side, and so, if they maybe had walked us through it, because there was little communication of what was going on, so if they had talked to us a bit more, and gotten our input, and actually taken it into consideration then maybe we would have seen something different,” said Zainab Bhatti who, along four other students, went to the administration last school year to voice her concerns about the combination of the levels.  

The first person they talked with in the administration was with Chad Runfola, one of the assistant principals. 

“[He] showed the lack of knowledge about the issue at hand, and it somewhat demonstrated to us a lack of importance,” said Bhatti. 

She, however, did discuss the situation with Spage afterwards, and after he talked to the group of students, she said that she felt more at ease about the situation.  

Still, the conversation with Spage didn’t completely erase her doubts about taking German 5 this year, but she decided to remain in the class and see what the administration was going to plan for the school year. At first, due to having a substitute for the first week of school, she was disappointed and apprehensive, but now that the she has met Friedrich, she is open to see what steps the administration and Friedrich will take forward with the situation. 

Bhatti did feel, however, feel like there was a lack of communication, which was one of the most frustrating factors about the situation in her opinion. 

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If something is done that’s out of the control of the teacher or the administration is the one who implemented it, it should be the admins job to provide us with details and address comments/concerns we have,” said Bhatti. 

When asked about the lack of communication between the administration and the students, Spage responded that usually this type of information was the responsibility of the teacher to tell the students. However, due to the special situation of Talboo transferring, Spage acknowledged that there was a gap of communication, and if a similar situation arose again then the administration would handle it differently and communicate with the students, but otherwise, the teacher is the one that will inform the students about what’s happening in the department.  

Another problem according to Felix Peiler is possible lack of attention to the different levels if they are combined. Peiler prefers a small class size since it provides him and his other classmates with more a more personal relationship with the teacher, as they had more face time with them. 

“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of time to focus on the levels, like four is going to be very confused when they are going over AP work,” said Peiler. “…Obviously, the classes are so small that they kind of have to combine it but i think it would have worked better another way.” 

Spage acknowledged this concern and shared that it wasn’t ideal.  

“That is not an ideal plan to have the three classes together, it’s a very difficult situation for the students and the teacher. We wouldn’t want to do that unless we absolutely had to,” said Spage.  

He also explained there were other possible paths that the administration could have taken, but the combination was the best one they could make with the number of students enrolled. The administration considered having the AP German students take Virtual Virginia, but due to the mixed reviews of the online course, they’d rather have the AP German students interact with a teacher in person. They also considered sending AP German students to go to another school to take the AP German class there; the administration looked at Briar Woods, Rock Ridge, and Stone Bridge, and took note that the course was offered in seventh period and first block. However, Spage was not fond of the idea of having four students driving back and forth from the two schools.  

With Talboo transferring, the process of hiring the current German teacher took a rather long time due to Spage’s standards. Spage mentioned how he won’t stop looking for the perfect teacher, and that he’s not above hiring a long-term substitute until he finds the right candidate to fill that position.  

There was a similar situation two years ago when there was an opening in the science department. By the time that school year began, Spage hadn’t found the best option for the position, so for half a year, there was a long-term substitute teaching that class.  

“I think [Friedrich] is a good choice. We feel she likes kids and knows German. She’s done some teaching before, but she doesn’t have a big background on secondary teaching, so this is new to her. But you know, I think she can learn those types of things with her work ethic. She’s a professional… She’s a mature person, has a family, is driven, I can tell she likes kids, she likes teaching, she wants to work well with the other people in the department (other teachers), and knows the language, quite frankly, that’s what we needed.”  

She also is native speaker, which was to Spage was extremely beneficial, especially for the German AP students since he hopes it would help push the German AP students into a fluency mindset.  

“She lights up around the people,” said Spage, “Any teacher that comes in here and they light around the people, I think the rest can fall in.” 

Additionally, another way that will try to help balance the levels will be by isolating German AP students for 30 minutes by allowing them to go during B lunch, giving her a chance to work with the German 5 and 4, and then, while German 5 and German 4 go to lunch during C lunch, the German AP will have their individualized instruction period of time.  

“Let’s talk about it. Let’s bring it up with Friedrich. Let’s see how we can help them. Let’s see if we can bring extra tutors, extra resources, online things. Maybe there are things we can buy,” said Spage 

Spage did agree that the situation will “be challenging, very challenging.” But Spage believes that Friedrich is more than capable to manage the situation appropriately, and even help the German department grow in the future.