3 CNMI Public Schools Resort To Multiage Classes

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Shortage in teachers leads to combined grade level classrooms

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 28, 2013) – Due to the continuing shortage of teachers in Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands public schools, three schools have opted to implement multiage classes beginning next week, which will allow them to combine students in different grade levels.

Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., disclosed yesterday that three schools—Tinian, Sinapalo, and Gregorio T. Camacho (GTC) elementary schools—have so far confirmed enforcing the multiage classroom because of the lack of teachers.

Multiage classes are enforced because they are either so small or so big that they merit additional teachers, Sablan said.

For the Tinian school, grades 2 and 3 will be combined in one classroom, while also combining grades 4 and 5 students.

For Rota’s Sinapalo school, multiage classes will take effect for grades 4 and 5, while GTC has to combine classes for its kindergarten and first grade as well as for grades 2 and 3.

"We have to implement multiage classes because we don’t have the FTEs we needed," said Sablan, adding that all three schools are considered small schools and will have to be provided the teachers they need.

Another small school, Tanapag Elementary, was spared from multiage classes after its enrollment dropped this year to just 170.

To illustrate how a multiage classroom functions, Sablan explained that a multiage class may have 64 students (32 students each from Grade 2 and Grade 3 for example) that will receive instruction from only three teachers instead of four.

"Thirty-four students for second grade is just too much [ratio] because the board policy requires only 20:1. Since we don’t have the FTE, we have to combine these grades to be able to continue providing them instruction," said Sablan.

Despite having the same teachers for both grades, curriculum instruction for each grade is different.

Sablan said that elementary teachers have been trained for multiage grouping, which allows them to be able to teach different grade levels at the same time. She is optimistic that this setting won’t impact student learning.

"We seen our scores gone up actually and it is because our teachers came prepared and they worked hard for our students to learn," she said, adding that the implementation of multiage classes is only among the innovative ways for PSS to live within its means.

As to how long these multiage classes will stay, Sablan said that lifting this depends heavily on the budget that will be appropriated for PSS by the Legislature for fiscal year 2014.

"We have to combine these classes until we know what our budget looks like [next fiscal year]. I hope that the new budget will allow us to hire the additional teachers that we need," she said.

Class size

Once multiage classes are enforced in some schools, very high student-to-teacher ratio becomes inevitable in large schools, Sablan said.

She cited the expected large class sizes in big schools like Marianas High School with enrollment to date totaling 1,391; Hopwood Junior High has 1,166 so far; Garapan Elementary School has 821 as of this week; William S. Reyes Elementary has 733; and Saipan Southern High School, 773.

In an interview with Hopwood principal Jonas Barcinas yesterday, he confirmed that he will have classes with up to 41 students this school year.

According to Sablan, GES has also reported a high ratio of up to 31 students in a class.

BOE policy mandates a ratio of 20:1 for elementary schools.

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