BEMIDJI — A handful of classes throughout Bemidji Area Schools are slightly more crowded than they should be.
Bemidji school board members reviewed a report during their Monday meeting about class sizes in the district’s schools, setting off a discussion about what should be done to foster the best learning environment for students.
Of the 97 elementary classes in the district, five had more students than the recommended amount. Bemidji High School has 164 first-semester courses. Eleven of those classes had more students than the recommended amount. However, none of the pods at the Bemidji Middle School had more students than recommended.
“Every effort has been made to balance class sizes this year,” said Tim Lutz, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools.
Although there were 16 classes in the district that had more students than recommended, none of them had a large number of extra students. Two of the classes had three more students than recommended. The rest had either one or two more students than recommended.
Board member Jeff Lind referenced a film shown earlier in the meeting about early education. Called “No Small Matter,” the film focused on how the early development of a child -- resulting from what kind of environments they’re immersed in -- can impact the rest of his or her life.
“I’m hoping that in the future, we are able to work toward the smallest class sizes that we can, obviously based on the dollars that are available,” Lind said. “We owe it to ourselves and to the students, as well as our staff, to really look at that.”
Lind asked what the district is doing to support the students and teachers in the classrooms that have more students than the recommended number.
Lutz explained a number of resources available that can be directed toward those classes. For example, Title I funding is able to provide more staff in classrooms, such as paraprofessionals. He also said some special education resources could be used for some of the students in those classrooms.
Human Resources Director Jordan Hickman echoed Lutz's comments. He said there are resources available for schools that have a large number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. He said resources are also available for schools that have high mobility rates, meaning schools that have a large number of students who come and go from the district.
The district created a new class at Horace May Elementary this fall after hearing from parents that the original class was too full. Lutz said they've also been aiming some behavioral support at students at J.W. Smith Elementary.
Lutz also added, however, that while class sizes are important, they are not the only thing that impacts a child’s learning.
"If we focus only on class sizes, we're not serving our students very well," Lutz said. "I'm not saying it's not important, but what's more important to the learning of a student is the quality of the teaching, the quality of the teacher, and the quality of staff development the teacher has received."