Student enrollment is up in the Richland and Kennewick school districts, but that hasn’t necessarily led to more crowded classrooms.
Some schools in both districts still have class sizes larger than district administrators would like, and the average fourth- and fifth-grade classroom in Kennewick is larger than last school year’s.
But district administrators credited the opening of new or rebuilt schools with providing more space and other measures in helping to get class sizes down, potentially allowing more personalized instruction from teachers.
“Parents and teachers have consistently advocated for smaller class sizes, emphasizing the opportunity for more teacher-to-student interaction and the benefits of a less crowded, more personal classroom environment,” Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte said in a release.
Richland reported welcoming 12,631 students on the first day of school Sept. 1. That’s 163 students more than the district saw on the first day of the 2014-15 school year.
Kennewick had 18,067 students when school started, over 500 more than it saw around the same time last year.
Despite the growth, Richland dropped average class sizes by as much as three to four students, so that kindergarten classrooms have about 21 students, third grade just under 25 and fifth grade just under 27.
Kennewick’s youngest classrooms saw declines, about one or two students on average, while fourth and fifth grade grew by one or two students on average to just under 27 and 29 students, respectively.
“We have reduced class sizes where we can, but we have run out of space for more classrooms at some of our schools,” Kennewick district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain said in an email.
Class size reduction has been a persistent issue in the state in recent years, leading to voter approval of Initiative 1351 on November’s ballot. The measure forced the Legislature to provide money to school districts to shrink classes by providing more money to hire teachers.
Officials with the Richland and Kennewick school districts said that helped them cut their class sizes, specifically in kindergarten through third grade. Several elementary schools in Kennewick also saw smaller student enrollments, which eased crowding.
But new buildings also provided the space to house the additional teachers needed to limit class size. Kennewick’s Eastgate Elementary School, which reopened after a year of being rebuilt, has four more classrooms than it did before. Richland’s rebuilt Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea elementary schools also have more classroom space.
The new Orchard Elementary School in south Richland has 26 classrooms, making it one of the largest in the city.
In Kennewick, a new elementary school is under construction in the Sagecrest neighborhood near Southridge, and Westgate Elementary School will have more classrooms after a two-year rebuilding project.