The Paly Voice

Overcrowded classes prompt administration to take action

Grant Raffel, Author

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As Palo Alto High School’s student population continues to grow, the administration is taking steps to limit overcrowding in classes, according to assistant principal Kimberly Diorio and Principal Phil Winston.

Diorio thinks the new buildings currently under construction will help class sizes return to moderate levels.

“They [the planned buildings] are going to have a huge impact on classes and class sizes,” Diorio said.  “The timing is perfect, because I suspect we will grow [again] next year.”

Winston says the buildings will be able to hold 2,300 students, giving the school more options.

Diorio also notes that allowing students to make schedule changes during the first week of school skews the number of students in each class.

“There is this sense that when students register in the spring, that it doesn’t really matter as much, [because] they can always change it in the fall,” Diorio said.  “Unfortunately, when you register in the Spring, that’s what we build the schedule on.  When everybody comes in the first week of school and changes their mind … it throws our classes really out of balance.”  

The number of students attending Paly, 1893, has gone up 3.5 percent from last year due to a freshman class of 498 students.

Winston noted that as Paly grows, the school will have no choice but to hire new teachers.

Diorio added that the magic number seems to be a maximum of 35 students per class.

“We usually cap classes at 35 [and] we usually don’t want to go over 35,” Diorio said.  “Even 35 [students] is really big.  Some of the departments will plan to run an AP or honors level class at 35 [students] so that the lower lane classes can run a little smaller so that those students who are struggling get more attention.”

The administration also noted that it often overflows classes intentionally, especially advanced or accelerated lanes, due to the expectation that at least three students will either move down a lane or drop the class.  

“Between now and November, when our drop deadline is, those classes at 35 [students] or over 35 [students] — we do have a couple of them — will come down,” Diorio said.  “You’ll lose three to four kids, it’s almost a given.”

Over-prescribed high-lane classes result in low-lane courses with only 20 to 25 students.  Smaller class sizes in low-lane courses allow room for high-lane students to drop down, Diorio explained.

Winston says that Paly must maintain a 28.5 students-per-class ratio throughout all Paly classes.

“There is an average that the district expects us to have, [which is] how they base our staffing, and that’s 28.5 [students per class],” Winston said.  “But that’s the average across campus, so you could have a [Physical Education] class with 45 [students] and a Foods class with 17 [students].”

Distributing schedules further in advance of the start of school could ease schedule changes and balance class sizes, according to Diorio.

“One of the things we are looking at is distributing schedules before school starts, earlier than the day before, and try to get some of this taken care of the week before,” Diorio said.  “Mr. Winston has been really great at providing support in the guidance office.  We have an additional counselor this year, Mr. Taylor.  Now that we have four grade level counselors, I think that the possibility of doing our schedule changes the week before school starts is more realistic.”

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