Co-teaching is flourishing at some county schools

Used as a stopgap, it could disappear as the district works to meet the state's 2008 deadline for smaller class sizes.

Published May 27, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - There was a time, back in the spring of 2006, when the state class-size amendment seemed ready to hit Hernando County like a locomotive.

The voter-approved measure was demanding ever smaller classes, even as the district was growing by 1,500 students a year. And the state Department of Education was considering doing away with Hernando's only means for keeping up: co-teaching.

"We have over 150 co-teaching arrangements," then-School Board Chairman Jim Malcolm said in 2006. "If that goes into effect for next school year, we will need to build an additional 150 classrooms. We would have to go with portables because we couldn't build bricks and mortar fast enough."

A year later, that pressure is a distant memory. The state allowed co- or team-teaching -- in which two teachers merge their classes and teach the larger group in tandem -- to make progress toward the 2002 mandate.

Officials say they're focusing less on meeting numbers for next fall than for 2008, when all classrooms must meet size caps of 18 students per teacher in elementary school, 22 in middle school, and 25 in high school. Until then, schools are only bound to keep average class sizes at those levels.

"I think we're on track," said facilities director Roland Bavota, referring to construction plans to meet those goals. "It seems like the growth slowed down, and so we met class-size reduction last year."

But in the meantime, co-teaching is business as usual at some Hernando schools, according to district figures:

- J.D. Floyd Elementary School boasts 20 co-teaching classes in kindergarten through sixth grade. The smallest has 20 students with two teachers, while the largest has 36. One kindergarten group numbers 31 students, two have 32, and six first- and second-grade classrooms have about 36 students with two teachers.

- At Spring Hill Elementary School, eight classes use co-teaching in first and third grades. The largest group numbers 36 children, and five first-grade classes hold 30 or more children.

- Springstead High has 16 class periods with co-teaching; the smallest holds 26 students, and 11 are larger than 40.

- At Parrott Middle School, 40 classes use co-teaching; a handful have 15 students or less, and a few enroll more than 30.

District officials cautioned that some noncore classes, such as music, are exempt from the class-size restrictions.

And some believe there are good things to be said about co-teaching.

"Most of the teachers who teach in a co-teach setting, if not all, prefer it," said Chocachatti Elementary principal Michael Tellone.

Ten classes use co-teaching at his magnet school, with sizes ranging from 26 to 34 students.

He said he was forced by facility limitations to adopt co-teaching when the School Board increased enrollment at the school to 920 students.

But Tellone said co-teaching allows for a creative division of duties. One teacher can preside over a group lesson while the other floats to help individual students, or the two can divide to provide enrichment or remediation to smaller groups.

"For students who need to be challenged more, you can differentiate in the classroom by providing more challenging materials," he added.

But with or without co-teaching, the district will need to work hard -- both in the facilities and human resources departments -- to meet its state deadline for smaller classes in the fall of 2008. It's unclear whether the state will continue to allow co-teaching arrangements past that point.

"Not only are we going to need a lot more teachers, we're going to need a lot more classrooms," said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.

By the fall of 2008, the district plans to open a 2, 200-student K-8 school off Northcliffe Boulevard in Spring Hill, Bavota said.

That -- plus a major expansion at Springstead High and additional classroom space at Central High and Spring Hill Elementary -- should keep the district in compliance, he said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.