DIXON – The district’s elementary schools have some of the highest pupil-to-teacher ratios among districts in the Sauk Valley, while its high school has among the lowest.
Classroom sizes are one of the many issues being negotiated as the district’s teachers remain on strike.
Dixon’s 168 teachers had been working without a contract since August. They went on strike Thursday, causing 2 days of classes to be canceled.
In the teachers union’s initial published offer, it proposed capping the pupil-to-teacher ratio per class.
In its elementary schools, Dixon has 19.2 students to each teacher, compared to the state average of 18.9. Locally, Sterling has 18.9 students to per teacher, Rock Falls 20.1, Morrison 18.2, Amboy 14, Ashton-Franklin Center 16.2 and Oregon 16.
At the high school level, there are 14.7 Dixon students for each teacher, compared to the state average of 19.2. Sterling has 21.1 students per teacher, Rock Falls 19, Morrison 16.4, Amboy 14.9, Ashton-Franklin Center 13.8 and Oregon 19.
Of those districts, Dixon is the second largest with 2,781 students. Only Sterling is larger, with 3,513 students.
Charlie Beck, an English teacher at Dixon High School, said class sizes limit the attention teachers can give students.
“If I’ve got 28 kids in a research class, I can’t get to everybody for a full 2 minutes,” Beck said. “That’s frustrating for a teacher.”
After research, the Center of Public Education said connections cannot always be made between class sizes and achievement, except in the primary grades of kindergarten through third grade, in a report taking 19 studies into consideration.
Bonnie Driver, an English teacher at Dixon High School, said averages don’t tell the whole tale, because she has one class with 17 students and another with 30.
“Some classes have too many students, but you can’t see that because other classes are below the norm,” Driver said.
While Superintendent Michael Juenger acknowledged the benefits of smaller class sizes, he said capping them can cause problems.
“If the district has one more student than the cap, does that mean we have to bring in another teacher and break up those classes?” Juenger said.
Juenger also said student achievement in Dixon has not declined, for the most part, in standardized testing results.
For class sizes to be capped, the union says, more teachers would have to be hired. In its last published offer, it said four to seven teachers would be needed to meet proposed caps.
Juenger said every new teacher costs the district between $40,000 and $55,000.
– SVM reporter Kayla Heimerman contributed to this story.