Finding the right balance in Williston

More factors than boy to girl ratio, officials say

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Male students outnumber females by more than 60 in Williston’s schools, making it impossible to find a perfect gender balance in each academic house, say school officials.

But Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said the administration tries to be as balanced as possible.

“You do the best you can and hope it works out,” Terko said. “I don’t want people to think that we throw darts on a board and decide that way.”

Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks agreed.

“It’s incredibly challenging to be able to put all of that together,” she said.

The gender breakdown was given to the School Board during its Sept. 10 meeting. Terko, filling in for District Principal Walter Nardelli, presented the numbers.

“The board had asked us to do that at the beginning of the year,” Terko said.

Terko said Nardelli also sent a copy of the numbers to the Conceptual Frameworks Committee, a group working to recommend changes in the district’s future.

Terko said the upper houses had to undergo more “tweaking” of student placement than the lower houses before school started. Upper houses Full and Swift saw the addition of an extra eighth grade and fifth grade class, respectively. As a result, those houses have five teachers and, on average, between 10 to 15 more students than the four-teacher upper houses.

“Because this is year one of the restructuring, we have more imbalance in some situations than we’d like to see,” Parks said.

By the numbers

For the lower houses, there are 257 boys and 220 girls. In the upper houses, there are 260 boys and 235 girls. With the exception of Voyager House, all lower and upper houses have more boys than girls.

While none of the houses have equal numbers of boys and girls, some are closer in balance than others. In the lower houses, the difference ranges from two in Lighthouse — 37 boys and 35 girls — to 11 in Discovery House — 42 boys and 31 girls. The new Pinnacle House, with its six-teacher team, has 58 boys and 54 girls.

In the upper houses, Full House has a difference of 11 — 60 boys vs. 49 girls. Harbor House has the largest variance, a difference of 24, with 59 boys to 35 girls. Voyager House — an exception to the rule — has 39 boys and 56 girls. Only Swift and Meeting houses come close to being balanced.

Between grades, the gender balances are closer in grades one through five, but tend to become more imbalanced in certain instances in grades six, seven and eight. In Harbor House, for instance, there are six girls and 15 boys in grade seven and nine girls and 17 boys in grade eight.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are six boys and 14 girls in Voyager’s grade seven.

Playing with numbers

Splitting the upper house teams during last school year’s reconfiguration also posed challenges. To avoid splitting up friends, the administration relied on parent help in placement.

“When we split them up, we felt there should be some options for parents and students,” Terko said.

Parks said this has been a “challenging year” because of reconfiguration and the placement of students. Still, there is balance in some areas. Parks said the houses are balanced much more when it comes to special education students, socio-economic factors and different academic levels.

“Gender is the least balanced of the lenses we look through in terms of placement,” Parks said.

Parks said the numbers concern teachers and administrators, but it’s also up to the teachers to make their classrooms positive learning environments for everyone.

Parks added she had received a lot of parent feedback — some negative, some positive — in the spring and summer leading up the school year in terms of gender numbers. But she said she hasn’t had one negative comment from a parent since school started in regards to the number of boys and girls in a classroom.

“My take is that people are happier with how this school year is going,” Parks said.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said she looked at the numbers and, while she would have liked to see more of a balance, she understands the difficulty in making them balanced.

“It’s not a perfect science and it never will be a perfect science,” Worth said.

Gender breakdown, by house
Lower houses (grades 1-4)
Calliope        32                        40
Discovery      31                       42
Esprit            33                        40
Lighthouse    35                        37
Pinnacle           54                    58
Vista                35                    40

Upper houses (grades 5-8)
Full                49                     60
Harbor            35                    59
Meeting            44                    47
Swift                51                    55
Voyager            56                    39

Information provided by the Williston School District.