A few years ago, Loudoun County Public Schools had one of the highest average class sizes in Northern Virginia, and board members set out to change that.
“We have the second highest average class size this year, second only to Prince William,” School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said during a budget meeting in January 2015. “We have an issue.”
They’ve since dedicated more money to hire additional teachers with the goal of having fewer students in each classroom. And they adopted a Strategic Plan last year with stated goals that 95 percent or more of kindergarten through third-grade classes should have no more than 26 students, and 95 percent or more of fourth and fifth grade classes should have no more than 29 students. The “staffing standard” board members are aiming to meet at the elementary school level is to have one teacher per 23 students.
Mike Martin, director of elementary education, said the school system has technically met those goals, but has room for more progress. He gave the School Board an update at a meeting earlier this month.
Right now, 96.28 percent of kindergarten through third grade classrooms have 26 or fewer students, and 97.3 percent of fourth and fifth grade classes have 29 or fewer students.
“The actual district-wide average for elementary school is 22.8. … But it’s probably no surprise to you that the progress fluctuates when you look at it by planning zone,” he said.
Average class sizes are the highest in the Dulles South planning area in the far southern end of the county, at 25 students, and the second highest in the Dulles North planning area, which sits north of Rt. 50 and west of Rt. 28, at 24 students. The average class size in Ashburn is 22.3; followed by Central Loudoun, which includes Leesburg, at 22.1; eastern Loudoun, which includes Sterling, at 21.4; and western Loudoun at 21.2.
Martin also noted that 56 elementary classrooms “failed” to meet the goal of 26 or fewer students. “And 34 of the 56 are in one school [Buffalo Trail Elementary] because that’s where we’re seeing the growth,” he said.
Superintendent Eric Williams also noted that the obstacle to meeting these goals in elementary schools in the southern end of the county is simply space. As new schools come on line, class sizes will drop. “We’re committed to minimizing these numbers, and Dr. Martin and his staff are distributing staff accordingly,” he said. “Class sizes in Dulles North and Dulles South are higher because of a lack of space—it’s not a matter of staffing or funding availability.”
The School Board will get an update on progress made to reduce high school class sizes at a meeting next month.