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Neal Wilkins to add another first-grade section
Enrollment more than projections
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One of the challenges of the first day of school is going to a classroom with new teachers and new fellow students.

Twenty first-grade students at Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center in Platteville will be making that transition for the second time this school year in a few weeks.

Platteville School District administrators have decided to add a sixth section of first grade as soon as a teacher can be hired for the position.

The decision was made because of a combination of more students in first grade than was projected and academic requirements for first-graders, particularly in math and reading. The school district had projected 22 students per first-grade class, but got 24 instead.

“Students move into the district and out over the summer, and we are never certain how many we will have until they walk in the doors,” said Neal Wilkins principal Kristoffer Brown in a letter to parents dated Friday. “We want to make sure that our students have every opportunity to develop a strong foundation of learning in the early grade levels. We have found that the present learning environment and class size is getting in the way of doing that.”

With the larger class sizes and their academic needs, “we really felt that was not an optimal class size at all,” said school superintendent Connie Valenza, who said Neal Wilkins staff considered other options such as adding half-time staff for math and reading. “In meeting with teaching staff we really felt the best option was adding a first-grade section.”

The additional class section will drop the average classroom size from 24 to 20. The sixth first-grade class will be made up of four students from each of the other first-grade classrooms, “chosen randomly with attention given to gender balance and the exceptional needs of students,” said Brown in his letter.

Brown’s letter sought volunteers for the move, though “I will make the final decision on students selected for the new classroom.”

“We know that this is not an optimal solution, but we also felt moving forward that these class sizes are not the optimal solution,” said Valenza. “We know it’s disruptive. … We really have to balance that with the concern we can’t provide support for developing those foundational skills with those class sizes.”