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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students participate during Mike Sorensen's fifth-grade class at Highland Park Elementary School Thursday May 8, 2014.
Will Salt Lake City shrink class sizes?

District wouldn’t need to raise taxes to make it happen.

First Published May 12 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated May 12 2014 09:55 pm

Decades ago, 45 sixth-graders stretched the limits of Elaine Tzourtzouklis’ classroom and teaching ability.

She struggled to fit enough desks in her room. Sometimes, she felt more like a baby sitter than a teacher.

At a glance

Median class sizes

In 2012-2013, median class sizes in Alpine School District were among the largest in the state.

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"I still feel guilty for that year because I felt like I did not teach them as well as I could have because there were so many," said Tzourtzouklis, now director of Wasatch UniServ, a part of the teachers’ union serving Salt Lake City.

Though that was years ago, Utah still has some of the largest class sizes in the country — a situation only exacerbated by the recent recession. As of 2010, Utah had an average ratio of 22.8 students per teacher compared with 16 students nationwide. Many classes are much larger than that average.

But now, with the economy recovering, leaders of at least one area school district are considering reducing class sizes.

The Salt Lake City School District is looking at possibilities that include lowering student-teacher ratios across the district, or just in the fourth through sixth grades.

The district wouldn’t need to raise taxes to pay for the changes, but it would likely have to forgo lowering them. It’s a price many educators and parents hope taxpayers are willing to bear.

"It’s so much easier to give students the attention they need when you have less of them," said Michael Sorensen, a fifth-grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in Salt Lake City.

‘More time for teaching’ » This year, Sorensen has 29 students in his class. That’s lower than the district’s current goal of 30.65 students per teacher in the fourth through sixth grades.

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He’s arranged the desks in his room into two giant groups to give kids more room to walk around. The most students he’s ever had was 35, and that was in the 2009-10 school year.

Large classes don’t go unnoticed by kids. One of Sorensen’s students, Megan DuVal, recently asked the district’s board to reduce class sizes.

"As an introvert, it would be helpful to me and other introverted students to have smaller classes because we would not be completely overwhelmed by the noise that almost always comes with a large group of students in the same room," Megan told board members, reading from a letter she wrote before the meeting.

Plus, she added, smaller classes would mean teachers could focus less on discipline issues.

"They would have more time for teaching and helping kids who needed help," she said.

Unless the district makes a change, Highland Park Elementary’s fifth-grade classes are slated to have 33 kids each next year, said principal Shelley Halverson.

The district aims to have 25.65 students per teacher in the first through third grades, which means the fourth through sixth grades tend to have the highest ratios.

"We’re trying to say as a faculty we want the very best start for our youngest members of the community," said Wasatch Elementary principal Julia Miller.

Next year, Wasatch might have to create split classes for upper grades — putting students from two grades in a classroom with one teacher.

It’s not ideal, Miller said, but without it, Wasatch’s fourth- and fifth-grade classes could have more than 40 students each.

"It’s pretty hard to meet individual needs, meet the mandates of the state core and teach with a lot of rigor," Miller said, "when you’re facing that many kids."

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