Wilson School gets extra teacher for rest of school year

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February 25, 2009
— Wilson Elementary School will get an extra teacher from now until the end of the school year to help with a difficult situation in the fifth grade.

The school now has two fifth-grade classes—one with 29 students and one with 30. School board guidelines allow fifth-grade classes to have no more than 30 students, so school board approval was needed to sidestep the policy.

Wilson's fifth grade is a special case with particularly difficult problems, Wilson Principal Becky Bicha told school board members at a board committee meeting Tuesday night.

Among those problems: 22 of the 59 fifth-graders are receiving special-education services, and more than 99 percent of Wilson students are from low-income families, according to a memo from Steve Salerno, director of administrative and human services, to Superintendent Karen Schulte.

Not mentioned in the report but brought up at Tuesday's meeting is the fact that Wilson has a worsening gang problem, and some students need to be separated, Bicha said.

Bicha said school staff has had to deal with children, mostly fifth-grade boys and girls, wearing gang T-shirts and using gang signs. Gang graffiti keeps appearing in the bathrooms, and there have been incidents of student-on-student violence or other bullying, some of it gang-related.

Bicha said most of the behavior seems to be of the "wannabe" variety, perhaps children taking their cues from older siblings. Wilson has called the police to 19 incidents at the school since Jan. 1 for a variety of incidents, some of them gang-related.

"We are being very vigilant on that because Wilson School needs to be a safe place for students and staff," Bicha said.

Bicha praised her staff, who she said are dedicated to their students, but she said the fifth grade needs help.

The board unanimously approved the departure from policy at its meeting Tuesday. Wilson soon will have three sections of fifth grade instead of two.

Salerno said he hoped to hire a retired teacher who wouldn't need district benefits. Half of the approximately $13,000 cost will be paid with money from the federal Title 1 grant. The other half is from a staffing contingency fund that is part of the 2008-09 budget.

The teacher will be a limited-term position that won't be needed next fall, Superintendent Karen Schulte said.

Bicha said she plans to hire the teacher as soon as possible.

"I recognize such a decision may have far reaching impact on other schools seeking to increase staffing; however, as of this writing, there are no other schools or grade levels that have a similar pupil-teacher ratio," Salerno wrote in his memo.

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