Phys-ed will remain at Sugarloaf

By Steve Estes

Parents of Sugarloaf School students plan on protesting proposed changes to the school’s physical education program for next year.

According to Sugarloaf School Principal Harry Russell, changes to the physical education program will be coming during next school year, but “We will maintain the program.”

Russell says that the new physical education program will meet all the statutory requirements from the Florida Department of Education.

He says there are two options on the table right now, “But I want to discuss them with my staff and get their input before I put them on the street.” That meeting occurs today.

The one thing that is certain at this point is that the junior physical education teacher has been transferred to another job in the district, leaving just senior PE teacher Sean McDonald as the lone physical education teacher.

Concerned parents have established a website  www.sharkparents.com to garner support for a petition drive to divert the proposed changes.

On that website, developer Jaynie Royal writes that the plans currently under discussion will not be in the best interests of the students at the school.

She claims that the school is contemplating placing all classes in each grade level in a single physical education class that will result in PE classes of up to 70 students.

The site claims that a single teacher cannot safely handle a group of young kids that large in any setting.

“I’m sure we won’t be trying to handle 50 or 70 kids in a single classroom with just one adult for supervision,” said School Board Chairman John Dick. “The school can always use an aide, or the program can be changed to allow for smaller classes.”

Moving all classes for a single grade into one class is not one of the options on the table, says Russell.

“We have to take into account the statutory requirements for class size,” said Russell. “Kindergarten classes are limited to 18 students, 21 for elementary students and 25 for high school. Whatever we do the class sizes will be manageable.”

Monroe County Schools are facing the need to cut just over $6 million from this year’s budget. That has resulted in a cut of four teaching positions at Sugarloaf School.

“Three of those four have been given jobs at other locations. One was a yearly contract employee and has been cut. We’ve been cutting for the last five years. Parents are starting to notice now because we the cuts are starting to hit the classrooms more heavily,” said Russell.

“We will not be doubling or tripling up on physical education classes,” said Russell. “We are aware of the injury concerns of the parents, and we respect those concerns.”

Another option the website claims is on the table is to handle physical education needs of the students through recess hours rather than a structured program.

“Florida statute requires 150 minutes of physical education each week,” said Russell. “We will meet that statutory requirement, we may just not meet it all in a structured physical education class,” said Russell. “We may have to use the general education teachers to fill in the gaps.”

Using general education teachers is something other schools in the district have been doing during the years of cutbacks, said Russell.

Russell said it is his intention to offer a “well-rounded” educational experience.

“We will offer physical education, art, music, choir and library services as well as other elective courses,” said Russell. “It is more important to me to keep the core classes up to par and offer a wide-range of electives than to delete programs entirely to meet our budgetary constraints.”

Changes to the program will not be heard by the full school board.

“The individual school budget is my responsibility, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a tight fiscal environment and I stand behind what we have presented,” said Russell.

The parent website urges concerned parents to attend the school board meeting May 22 in Marathon to voice their displeasure with the proposed changes and to sign the petitions they can find on the website.

“I’m glad we have a proactive parental group. It always betters the school when parents show an interest in their child’s educational process,” said Russell.

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