AUGUSTA — About 45 elementary school students will head to different city schools than they attended previously when their new school year starts Wednesday.

The youngsters will leave behind the familiar places and faces of their old schools, but generally attend smaller classes where their teachers will be better able to focus on individual students’ needs, school officials say.

The students were forced to switch schools as part of an effort by officials to balance class sizes better at the city’s four elementary schools. Some schools, especially Farrington Elementary School, had many more students than the others. That led to class sizes as high as 26 students at some grade levels at Farrington, while other elementary schools had classes at the same grade levels with as few as 16 students in them.

Lori Smail, principal of Farrington, said 37 former Farrington students will now attend different elementary schools, with most of them staying on the east side of the Kennebec River and moving to Hussey Elementary School.

Smail acknowledged the move from a school where they have formed bonds with teachers, other staff and classmates will, at least at first, be hard for some students and parents. But she said the students will adjust and fit in at their new schools and have the benefits of smaller class sizes.

“It is hard. I had some students that came in to see me and said, ‘I don’t want to leave,'” Smail said. “But the kids will adjust very well. They are so resilient. The nice thing about Augusta right now is the kids do so many things together through Augusta Recreation and other activities they know each other already. And with the district-wide curriculum, we’re working together so we’re using all the same programs of study, teaching the same topics at the same time. So there is continuity of academics.”

Troy Alexander, new principal of Hussey Elementary School, where many of the former Farrington students were moved, said open houses before the first day of school there will give students and parents a chance to check out their new schools, classrooms, teachers and classmates.

He said any time there is change people have concerns, but also said kids are resilient and will adapt, be welcomed and fit in at their new school.

Hussey gained an entire fourth grade class and also gained two sixth grade classes, which are located in space which previously housed the central office, which includes the superintendent’s office. The central office was moved to Capital Area Technical Center. However, many of the sixth graders already were Hussey students until last year, when Hussey sixth graders were moved to Farrington for the school year because there wasn’t space for them at Hussey. Now, they’re coming back.

Superintendent James Anastasio said better balancing of class sizes across the district allowed the schools to avoid hiring three additional teachers and coming up with three additional classrooms, saving an estimated $180,000.

He said families of students who had to switch schools were notified in June.

“There were some parents that were concerned. That was not unexpected,” Anastasio said. “As of today I’ve communicated with every parent who had a concern. Not everybody was happy, but they understood the reasoning. Kids will make adjustments.”

Anastasio said in general the change accomplished the goal of balancing class sizes. He said there is still a third grade class at Farrington with 25 students, which is more than ideal, but the other elementary class sizes are in the 18 to 22 student range, which he said was pretty good.

Transportation will be provided to get students to their new schools. Most moved students who take the bus will still take a bus to their old school, where they will board another bus to be transferred to their new school.

Anastasio said Farrington had more students than the other elementary schools because of a combination of population growth in the area surrounding the school and because the school hosts district-wide English as a second language and special education programs. He also said when some families moved out of the Farrington area, sometimes their kids kept attending Farrington rather than the school in their new neighborhood.

Anastasio said no siblings were separated as part of the re-balancing process.

In general officials tried to keep students switching schools in schools on the same side of the Kennebec River as their previous school, but that was not possible in all cases.

Anastasio said moved students were kept as close to their homes as possible.

Smail said large class sizes make it harder for teachers to spend one-on-one time with students and more difficult to have students work in small groups. She said smaller class sizes allow teachers to do more interactive teaching, get to know children better and communicate with parents better.

The first day of school for grades one through six in Augusta is Wednesday, while kindergartners start school Thursday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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