Parent concerned over teacher-student ratio in Columbia public schools

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COLUMBIA - Parent Kim Dampier looked at the 2016 first-day enrollment numbers for Columbia Public Schools and said they were not what she expected.

As a mother of four children, who will all go through Mill Creek Elementary School in southwest Columbia, Dampier said she is willing to fight for a cause in education she believes in: the ratio of students to teachers in classrooms. 

Dampier said she is disappointed with the class sizes she has observed at Mill Creek, especially considering the Columbia Public Schools System has opened a brand new elementary school, Beulah Ralph, for the 2016-2017 school year. 

Dampier said she expected enrollment at Mill Creek to be less, as more students switched to Beulah Ralph, but she said the numbers don't add up.

"I mean our numbers went down by 70. We opened a brand new school and we lost 70 kids. And we lost six class room teachers," she said.

According to Dampier, she expected a greater decline in enrollment, and said that now, the ratio of teachers to students is too high.

"We just need teachers. I mean, 25, 26, 27 kids per teacher is not acceptable for learning."

Michelle Baumstark, communications director for Columbia Public Schools, said the biggest challenge for the city is growth.

"The building of Beulah Ralph Elementary School was meant to address overcrowding," she said.

"In particular, Mill Creek was our largest one," Baumstark said. 

"I do know that we added seven instructional aides to Mill Creek elementary to help deal with some of our class size bubbles that we have as we transition to opening a new building and dealing with the two years worth of attendance areas adjustments that we did to Mill Creek. 

Dampier said she gathers from speaking with teachers, that the assistants do not offer adequate support.

"The teachers say that teachers aide are, it's difficult to work with one teachers aide per five teachers. They only get to use a teacher's aide one afternoon a week," she said.

Dampier said that residential growth is an increasing concern for the Columbia Public School System, but said she fears the issue isn't being addressed at the rate the population is growing.

She said, "Why is it that it seems like we seem to be a day late and a dollar short? By the time we get the school it's a little too late! And that's exactly what's happening here, it's a little too late."

She said, "Certainly we need Beulah Ralph, but it's not going to be long that we're going to need another school because of development."

Baumstark said, "We knew that we would have a year where we wouldn't see the huge, huge drop that I think people, the perception that people had that it would be an immediate affect. and it has reduced significantly, the number of students we have at Mill Creek."

Baumstark said she understands the concerns over student-teacher ratios in elementary schools, but the public should keep its expectations realistic. 

"You know you're not going to have a bunch of elementary school classrooms that only have 10-15 students in it. That's not realistic, nor would our taxpayers appreciate that," Baumstark said.