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Educators target class sizes in middle schools

An aggressive grassroots campaign by Utah middle school educators may mean smaller class sizes in Utah junior highs and middle schools.

The Utah State Office of Education will emphasize the needs of the state's middle school students in budget hearings before the Utah Legislature in 1998.State education officials want $13.6 million to reduce class sizes in grades 7 and 8.

That funding is part of a more than $2 billion education wish list under consideration by the Utah Board of Education.

"We're focusing on middle schools this year. That's where they really load up the class sizes. We're trying to reduce those sizes so school's not so impersonal that teachers can get to know every child. At that crucial point in their lives, they need an adult to talk to," said state Deputy Superintendent Laurie Chivers.

Evergreen Junior High principal Dorothy Bingman, president of the Utah Middle Level Association, said administrators and teachers have been meeting with lawmakers, state school board members and state education officials to bring attention to the class-size issue.

"Why should a sixth-grader who's had a class of 24 students have to go into a class of 36 students in seventh grade?" she said.

Chivers said middle schools also are a priority of Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Legislature, which Bingman said is heartening.

"It gives us encouragement. It's something that those of us who have been around for years know needs to happen," she said.

Chivers said state officials also want more money directed to staff training for middle-school educators and beefing up school/career counseling.

Other budget priorities under consideration by the state school board include continued class-size reduction in elementary schools, comprehensive guidance and alternative language services.

Once the state school board decides on its funding proposal, it will go to the Legislature for scrutiny by committee and then the entire body of lawmakers. The governor also submits an education funding proposal to legislators.