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Bid to shrink kindergarten classes quicker
Nile Garden School kindergarten teacher Robin Wilsons students listen to instructions as part of a group activity on the first day of the new school year in August. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ Bulletin file photo

Those that teach the  605 members of the Manteca Unified kindergarten community have spoken.
They want smaller class sizes so they better prepare children for a future of lifelong learning.
And they could get what they’re asking for.
After a contingent of kindergarten teachers distributed packets with signatures of all teachers and aides with Manteca Unified School District that educate young people as they embark on their elementary school career, Superintendent Jason Messer asked that the board place the matter on the agenda for their May board meeting to allow staff ample time to meet with teachers and see what recommendation makes sense.
According to longtime Manteca Unified kindergarten teacher Andrew Anderson, what the teachers were asking for – for class sizes to return to the levels that were set before the economic downturn prompted massive cuts – went beyond just making things easier for teachers who spend their days with a classroom full of kids.
It’s about setting them up for success.
“There is no item with more potential impact than what we’re providing you with here tonight,” Anderson said. “It is that important.”
According to comments made by Manteca Educators Association President Ken Johnson that centered around class size reduction, the issue was brought up during contract negotiations three years ago but was deferred in part on the agreement that the district would move slower in exchange for giving pay raises to the teachers – something that he said was crucial after losing so many educators to cutbacks and seeing so many families struggling and even losing homes during the tumultuous years.
“For the record, we brought up smaller class sizes in negotiations three years ago, but the district said they wanted to move slower. So they agreed to a pay raise only if we agreed to go slower on class size reduction,” he said in his closing statement. “After all of the pain from people losing jobs and homes through foreclosures, we felt our teachers had sacrificed enough. Finding the money to lower class sizes is all about priorities.
“We have the template to help our students. We also have the money to do it. Do we have the vision to do it?”
The district agreed to work down to a 24-to-1 ratio between kindergarten students and teachers over the course of the next several years – dropping down class sizes by one student a year from the 29-to-1 that is currently in place through the end of the school year.
Teachers are also requesting that aides – that used to a critical part of the kindergarten experience – be brought back into the classrooms to assist teachers in managing the workload. According to Anderson, he has a bilingual aide for only 30 minutes every day.