Several years after financial crises forced overcrowding in dozens of classes, city schools opened last week with vastly better class sizes, administrators reported.
In the 10 elementary schools, just six classes had more than 25 pupils each last week, Chief Operating Officer Paul Salina told the board of education Tuesday night.
That compares with the two dozen elementary classes in 2012 that had more than 30 pupils each.
"We're pretty pleased with most of the sizes. There's been a consistent effort to put teachers in front of students, and it's worked well," Salina said.
Just four years ago, several elementary classes in New Britain started the year with 32 to 35 students each.
"Thirty-five is crowd control," board member Merrill Gay said after the meeting. The ideal at lower grades is 17 students or fewer, a size that enables teachers to work more closely with students and control behavioral issues, he said.
The school system has spent several years working to direct more of the annual budget to hiring additional teachers. Gay credited the progress to filling most open jobs with entry-level teachers – particularly in the elementary grades – rather than hiring more experienced but more costly applicants.
"There's been real discipline in doing that. And that lets us hire a few more teachers," Gay said.
Board Vice President Nick Mercier praised the human relations department for hiring its newest teachers at the bottom of the pay scale; the only exceptions were for hard-to-find teachers of advanced topics in secondary grades.
As recently as two years ago, there were a few kindergarten classes with 29 students each. This year, the school system is running about 40 kindergarten classes; the largest has 25 pupils, two have 24. More than half have fewer than 20.
"We have a couple of spots that are above what we want – we'll keep a close eye on that," Salina said. "But when you think back to five years ago, we were averaging 25, 26, 27 [students per class in some schools]."
This year's class-by-class numbers could change in the next several weeks, so no staff transfers are planned now, Salina said. Typically, New Britain schools add a small wave of late-registering students in the week after Labor Day and weed out the names of children whose families moved away in the summer without notifying the district.
Connecticut schools cite early October enrollments as their official figures for the year, and that's when New Britain would consider reassigning students or staff if necessary, Salina said.
As of Tuesday, Lincoln School had the smallest kindergarten classes in the city: Four with 17 students each, and one with 16. But it also had the biggest first-grade classes, all ranging from 25 to 27 students each.