Deerfield Elementary Overcrowded, Parents Say

The school's PTO voiced concerns of the overcrowded focusing on kindergarten.

More than 50 Deerfield parents filled the new middle school auditorium to discuss concerns over an overcrowded elementary school at Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting. 

The Deerfield Parent-Teacher Organization told the board it has concerns with the safety and socialization of students because of an increase in the number of students now attending the school. 

Deerfield has added 33 students this year, according to Lauren Hollender, co-president of the Deerfield PTO. Currently, there are five kindergarten classes and four are over limit of district guideline of 20 students per class. 

"Our class size keeps getting bigger, we are growing and we continue to grow," Hollender said. "Our common space areas, such as our gym, multipurpose room and adjacent bathrooms are simply not large enough to accommodate so many students."

Since the multi-purpose room only holds 190 students by fire code, students have a split grade lunch and recess, which keeps kids from learning 'sandbox' social skills, according to a PTO member.

PTO Vice President Stacey Koplitz, explained more than 200 girls have to wait in line to use one of two bathroom stalls after lunch. Three stalls are available for boys. 

The school has also been unable to have an all-school assembly in years with a gym fire code of 442, Koplitz said. 

Hollender asked the board and incoming board members to plan for the future of the school district's population growth.  

"I appreciate and respect that there is a potential issue but the issue is with all the schools," Millburn School Board President Michael Birnberg said. "I'm not going to have a plan that is short sighted. I want a plan that is a three to five year plan that will address the issues."

In the beginning of the school year, the board hired classroom aides to assist with the unexpected larger classes. However, the public voiced concerns for a long-term plan to prepare for a steady rise in the Deerfield student population. 

Birnberg agreed, saying he doesn't want a 'band-aid fix' but the board also needs to address overcrowding at all the schools. 

"We've looked at the numbers and realized it is not just a Deerfield issue and all the schools are taxed at a certain level, but we're just to be a little more taxed I think," PTO member Amy Tallbert said. "We don't have the solution, but we are willing to be a part of one."

"And that's appreciated," Birnberg replied. 

A few suggestions from the board and public were:

  • Soft borders for districts. Livingston was used as example.
  • Centralized fifth grade.
  • Centralized kindergarten through second grade.
  • Redistricting.
  • Portable classrooms.
  • Half-day kindergarten.

Another issue with more students is more cars for pick up and drop off, a Deerfield parent told the board.

"There are cars on both sides of the street in the neighborhood around the school with one lane for traffic," she said. "You can't see these kids. It's an accident waiting to happen."

This unexpected rise has caused challenges for the district, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield said earlier in the year. 

"It's our hallways, our stairways, everything. We're just bursting at the seams," one mother said.

J. Keogh November 29, 2012 at 05:30 PM
The lack of longer term planning is the issue; the enrollment at Glenwood is almost back up to where is was before the redistricting with dozens of children now enrolled that live in the apartments near the Kings Supermarket. The promise to remove the classroom trailers that were placed down 11 years ago has been broken time and time again. Clearly, moving the children around 3 years ago was a "band aide" that has now fallen off. What now?
MarkDS November 29, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Kids who live in apartments have as much right to an education in the system as anyone else. I hate when I see that brought up as if it signifies something.
J. Keogh November 29, 2012 at 05:48 PM
You are missing the point entirely; your comment is off base; the fact is that there is little analysis about where population shifts are coming from or planning to accommodate increasing numbers in an area of town.
Hedley November 29, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I don't see how a demographic study can ever be truly accurate. How do they really know how many families will move to town in a year, two years, five years, either to buy or rent? Quite frankly the only real solution I see is to build another school which I can't see ever happening. I can only imagine the fights there would be with a centralized 5th grade. How would anyone decide which elementary school becomes just 5th grade, sending all those K-4 kids elsewhere? We know it won't be Deerfield. Can't have those kids going to Wyoming or South Mountain. So Hartshorn? Glenwood? Move to be near the train station and now your kids go to school across town? That would make for some legendary Board meetings. Maybe there needs to be a rolling re-districting every 5 years or so (if that is even logistically manageable).
bill November 29, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Well, the district lost our #1 ranking entirely due to increases in class size. The board keeps saying it does not matter, and maybe it does not justify a ranking drop from 1 to 8, but the fact is that parents seem to think it matters, as evidenced by this article.
MK November 29, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Demographic studies are commonly done for all types of uses: from opening retail stores to planning and engineering cell phone networks, cable facilities, and even traffic management...... and in this era of crowd sourcing etc, there is a ton of information that is known about who lives where...and a ton of software providers who do nothing but this type of work using sophisticated mapping tools, "multiple indexes" and census reports. The data and analytics exist--and then individual companies package it and market it vertically depending on the application: to schools, or for retail planning, etc. Trust me when I tell you that a lot of large companies would not make a move without these types of analytics. One of the things that frustrated me back in 2010 was the so-called demographer really came across as very inexperienced in his methodology.... I never quite understood how he was hired a mere two years after mucking up his initial 2008 work! One challenge I do see is that our numbers are small..... so a variance in the data is more meaningful. To me, the right kind of demographer would do two things: 1. Pull data from well known and respected mapping company such as Policy Map (google them) and then 2. Inspect the number by looking at the data in a very micro manner--and look at things like open real estate and trends in housing. About the one thing I cannot stomach is another large fubar where kids are moved around at a whim like last time.
JKH November 30, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Bill....the change in the rankings was NOT due to class sizes changing per se....that's a common misunderstanding but not rooted in facts. Hear me out.... NJ schools are ranked often....by magazines, test results, district factor group erc and the trend across the board for Millburn has been steady across all metrics and all rankings, The only significant change we have had I any ranking was for NJ Monthly magazine.....because they changed how they added up the scores. In an effort to level the playing field, they de-emphasized the college type results we look at and weighed other things such as class size more heavily. Had NJ Monthly used that criteria and those calculations in years past, Millburn would never have had a number one ranking, ever, even though our academic and test results are better than almost every other HS in NJ. Check out the rankings compiled by NJ.com as a comparison.
Noreen Brunini November 30, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The irony of seeing all of my past, "terrible, horrible bad redistricting proposals" which were summarily dismissed as unworkable by past administration (and many community members) being lauded by current elementary parents as better alternatives to the current situation is indeed ironic. To summarize the past objections with which I am more than intimately familiar: 1) Half-day kindergarten. Educationally this is a horrible idea and should only be considered as an absolute last alternative. 2) Soft borders for districts. This is the only way to avoid having to redistrict every 5 - 10 years. However, it causes a great deal of uncertainty for those living in the swing area and is likely to affect home values in those areas. I believe Livingston eventually abandoned this approach as it was very unpopular with residents in the swing areas. 3) Centralized fifth (single) grade. Really after enduring multiple BOE meetings with 100s in attendance to object to the suggestion of loss of a neighborhood school to convert to a single grade school I can assure one and all this idea is a non starter. 4) Centralized kindergarten through second grade. Again loss of neighborhood school, and for our “youngest” students will be a non starter. Additionally kindergarten classrooms require access to in class bathrooms and retrofitting enough classrooms is prohibitively expensive. To be continued
Noreen Brunini November 30, 2012 at 04:00 PM
5) Redistricting. Honestly will be required at least once a decade under current parameters but is politically explosive and very difficult not to just create problems in other schools over time. 6) Portable classrooms. Always an option if there is a place to put them and community will pay for them and DOE will approve them…….
Noreen Brunini November 30, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I would also like to comment on the kindergarten projections. Throw all the stones you want but past BOE's have done an incredible job projecting the demographics of our district. If one went by the normal demographic model of using birthrates to project kindergarten enrollment from 2004 onward MB should have used projections in the 300 range. The BOE realized this "normal demographic" approach does not work as a reliable prediction method for our district and requested a 5 year rolling average of past kindergartens be used for projecting instead. Demographers always react with horror to this suggestion and then as they get to know the district they realize it is more realistic in our case.. Past BOE's have endured public criticism for "inflating the kindergarten" number projections but the BOE always took a conservative approach and made a best guesstimate. But it is a PROJECTION and therefore inexact. Note: there has only been one other incoming kindergarten at 372 students in 2001. The next largest class was at 357 in 2003; the class in 2011 was only 315! Birthrates have been falling nationally for about 5 years, there was no reason to expect the current kindergarten class to be 370. Such a large enrollment is unlikely to repeat in Sept 2013. Also one never knows how many houses will turn over, but this is another area the BOE projected conservatively and has always erred on the high side because it is better to budget for too many students than not enough.
Noreen Brunini November 30, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Must admit I was always one who thought the elementary enrollments would eventually begin to decline and thought that was finally happening in 2011. The District has been well served by projecting those numbers on the conservative (high) side as actual enrollments show. I just wanted to add that (Imo) Dr Crisfield and BOE and staff did an extraordinary job absorbing such an unexpectedly large kindergarten this year. For many districts that would have been a major crisis yet Millburn seemed to handle it without breaking stride. That is excellent management.
Noreen Brunini November 30, 2012 at 08:48 PM
FYI for anyone who saw the comment I posted earlier re elementary school maximum capacity. I would like to confirm I deleted this comment of my own accord. No one asked me to remove it. In answering a question about the data for Dr Crisfield I realized some of the capacity data was actually from a BOCES report covering the elementary schools before the last round of construction. As a result a number of the max capacity figures stated were too low and I no longer have the more recent info to correct my statement. But I would state that with this discovery of my error I am certain the school district has plenty of capacity to accommodate the current elementary enrollment without additional construction or trailers.
Noreen Brunini December 01, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Fact: Deerfield is NOT overcrowded; an argument could be made that Glenwood is. This article made me curious so I looked at the enrollment data vs available space. Fact: Deerfield is the largest school with 32 classrooms. This year it has 26 grade sections, a self contained spec ed class and a Preschool class. That leaves 4 rooms for Specials (art,music,computer, world lang?) plus as I recall from memory, in addition, Deerfield has an oversized space which was used as a instrument music room plus the Multipurpose room and gym. Deerfield is operating close to normal, full capacity. (Personally I wonder why a preK class was moved here given how full the school otherwise is, but am sure Admin had its reasons.) In contrast, Glenwood has 26 classrooms 2 are in trailers. I was astonished to see Glenwood has 25 class sections. That means they have 1 special room and the other specials are “on a cart”. This means they are likely still using the oversized book closet converted to a computer room in which it is hard to fit (20) 5th graders without them touching arms as they sit at their keyboards. Instrument lessons are either in the teacher lounge or on the MPR stage or in the Principal’s office. Glenwood appears to be back to where it was before the recent redistricting! I am very sorry and shocked to realize this.
KLF December 01, 2012 at 10:29 PM
A centralized anything (central 5th, central K, etc.) would happen only if a new school were built for it. Otherwise, which existing school would become the central school? Hartshorn is the most centrally located school in terms of geography. Would Hartshorn parents like it if their school were chosen, and the current Hartshorn kids were distributed among Glenwood, Deerfield, S. Mtn, and Wyoming? Or how about if Wyoming became the central school, and current Wyoming kids were bused all around town to the other four schools? S. Mtn can't possibly be the central school because imagine all those buses from all over town barreling through that small residential neighborhood twice a day. There's no driveway or parking lot.
MarkDS December 02, 2012 at 06:00 PM
BTW for people who do not think the move of the vote to Election Day has a positive benefit look at the much greater vote totals this time: Eric Siegel 4,698 votes. Raymond Wong 3,743 votes Rupali Wadhwa, 3689 votes, Eliot Cahn, 3,015 votes. compared wit the last vote in April: Jean Pasternak 1,419 votes Jeffrey Waters garnered 1,297 votes Regina Truitt picked up 1,275 votes
WRR December 03, 2012 at 03:14 PM
@ NB: The interpretation of numbers are very subjective. Currently your argument relies on usage of the classrooms within each school in the macro sense. What it negates is the headcount per section/grade level. Glenwood's largest population per section is about 21 in one grade. All other grades hovers around 20 kids/section. Last school year, they expanded one grade to 5 sections. Conversely, both Hartshorn and Deerfield have several grades with about 25 students in 4 sections/grade. IF Hartshorn and Deerfield opted to expand the sections in those grades to 5, they would have to capture 2 (Hartshorn) and 1 (Deerfield) "specials" classroom and convert the specials to "on a cart" since neither schools currently have spare rooms; this would create almost equal headcount/section within all three schools. Hence, lack of classrooms in Hartshorn and Deerfield would mirror that of Glenwood. Many studies have shown that larger class sizes dimishes the level of education in the elementary school level; Hartshorn and Deerfield currently have an educational disparity vs. Glenwood given its headcount per section/grade.
WRR December 03, 2012 at 03:27 PM
If the MMS have the available space; studies have shown that moving the 5th grade to the middle school level is more productive. 5th and 6th graders are in "synch" in both brain and psychological development. There is a large variance b/w 4th to 5th graders; 6th to 7th graders. This would "equalize" the disparity in the middle school and eleviate all elementary school population.
charlotte Kobberger December 03, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Noreen, you may be correct on the common space at Glenwood but correctly, the classroom numbers are lower. I can specifically mention the 4th grade there. as for redistricting, I for one was very opposed to this but in the long run, my child faired well. having older children in the district opened my eyes that the more crucial time is MS and HS. I am not saying that its not a stressful moment, but it is doable and perhaps if the Schools had a SOP for all 5 elementary schools, it would be less fraught with angst.
M.Moore December 03, 2012 at 05:01 PM
There is no room in the middle school for an additional 300+ students.
Amy Talbert December 03, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Noreen-I respect all that you did as BOE president but your comments about Deerfield have upset not only several parents but several members of the faculty there- I am a parent and very active PTO volunteer so I am at Deerfield a lot. There are 587 students in Deerfield. Our common spaces were not meant for that many students. I welcome you to come and look at what's happening at Deerfield before putting your "facts" out there. There are lines for the bathroom, split lunches and recesses for 2nd and 3rd grades, assemblies are too crowded as are stairwells and hallways. We are asking the BOE and administration to try and look at the numbers and figure out short term and long term what is best for this wonderful district. There are 30 plus homes in the Deerfield section for sale, our numbers will only continue to rise.
Noreen Brunini December 03, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Amy, am simply pointing out for the first time since the elementary school expansion Deerfield is enrolled at close to full capacity. Its not even at, or over capacity, I'm sure it feels crowded and understand this is upsetting especially if you are a family which first started there when it was run at 80% capacity and felt very spacious. But It IS designed to be the largest school. Hartshorn has run at similar close to full capacity for over a decade. Glenwood ran OVERcapacity for over a decade.They are again overcrowded. Acknowledge that this year they do have some smaller class sizes but will also note their classrooms are significantly smaller and feel more crowded. Also Glenwood has 1 central hallway through which all traffic must pass. At least Hartshorn/Deerfield are designed with mutiple hallways and can manage traffic patterns. The issues mentioned above are management issues. Hartshorn/Glenwood have had split lunches, recesses etc for over a decade. They double and sometimes triple session assemblies. The Middle and High schools have all endured similar management crowding issues. I do question whether enrollment numbers will continue to rise. I will note just before the enrollment fell precipitously in the 1970's the kindergarten enrollments became very erratic and hard to predict and I have been wondering if that pattern isn't repeating the last few years. Anyway the District has space and could choose to rebalance schools, no need to build new.
Abby Kalan December 04, 2012 at 08:16 PM
There are examples of successful solutions to increasing student populations in Millburn using redistricting and shifting 5th grade to another building. Too bad the Middle School is so overcrowded and cannot house the 5th graders. However, the success of these solutions was dependent on: studying the issues for lengthy periods of time with input from staff and parents; patience; and strong school leadership that was able to build trust within the community. In the case of the 5th grade move, an overhaul of that curriculum was part of the process and one of the components that led to that option's success. It can be done, but open dialogue, listening skills, and cooperation are basic requirements for a positive outcome.
bartsimpson December 06, 2012 at 04:09 PM
BartSimpson #1: Since when are Board meeting held in the middle school auditorium? Was someone expecting the "more than 50 Deerfield parents"? Perhaps the Deerfield parents ought to visit some of the other schools in the district to see the conditions many students in our town are dealing with that include crowding as well as buildings in desperate need of repair, updating, etc. Wyoming and South Mountain were original built in the 20's I believe. Deerfield is the newest building is it not? As Michel Birnberg stated, this is a town wide problem that needs a town wide solution. This is one reason why I support - though I realize it would be a difficult transition - a move to K-2 and 3-5 elementary schools. Yes, it would mean more busing, but many kids in this town live close to 2 miles away from their school and have to pay for busing. Plus spreading our kids across the community would be a significant move towards diminishing the inequities that exist across elementary schools in terms of programs and equipment. It could also provide class size equity, potentially reduce overhead, and allow for more efficient flexibility year to year to respond to population bumps and cyclical enrollment. Busing into some neighborhoods could be an issue, but NOT if you can significantly reduce or even eliminate all the cars associated with parents dropping off and picking up.
bartsimpson December 06, 2012 at 04:10 PM
BartSimpson2: Something even more radical and requiring long term vision would be to build the new school, successively house each elementary school there while much needed upgrades are made to original buildings, then when all is complete, use one of the "extra" elementary school as a focus/magnet for STEM and the arts. This additional new "school" could be designed so that it would be easily converted back and forth between a school and a community center that might offer senior services, pre-school, a pool, gym facilities, ESL support, etc. This would give the community flexibility as the school population ebbs and flows over time and provide a valuable enhancement to the community that everyone might benefit form. In fact if there is enough space, some of these services could be collocated there on an ongoing basis! Yes, this would mean a significant investment by the community but it is going to take this kind of out of the box thinking to provide a sustainable solution to managing cyclical school populations.
JKH December 08, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Fascinating but I recently heard Dr. Crisfield talk about the budget this year--and the situation being akin to two years ago. Just wondering if the political will exists for the citizens to approve some sort of a bond for this building without all hell breaking loose. Amy---I have to say with all the respect in the world, that I agree with Noreen. These issues are not new to Hatshorn, nor Glenwood, where there are split lunches, multiple assemblies etc. I think these are growing pains and I believe Noreen was correct to post facts vs. "how it feels" to the parents and the kids. Perception is not always everything. Not that I am disagreeing with the Deerfield parents for saying something but they should have done a bit more homework before going public--mostly so their arguments would have been more focused on true solutions instead of getting everyone bickering about which school has it worse. This was an unintended effect, no doubt, but it's what happened precisely because the numbers did not support the scale of the outcry.
JKH December 08, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Same with glenwood--too small area around it. We have friend in another town with centralized kindergarden and they loathe it for a number of reasons.
JKH December 08, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Can't help but note how well Eric Siegel did---good for him. Almost five thousand people voted for him---that is a significant endorsement.
Apple Cider December 09, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Leaving out a little detail. Siegel got 4,698 votes but 7,915 MIllburn residents voted in the elections. What happened to all the rest? Did they see the ballot? Did they know there was a school board election? Even the PTO forgot to run a candidates forum this year. How much did each candidate spend in the school board election this year? More spending = more votes. People knew little to nothing about the issues in the schools this year...they voted based on whose name they saw on signs and on Patch banners. And you think that constitutes an endorsement?
MarkDS December 10, 2012 at 01:24 AM
This year the number of signs was pretty equal for all the candidates. Some people can always find excuses as to why the winners are somehow illegitimate. But the winner is the winner. Period.
JKH December 11, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Apple Cider, or whatever your name is this week.......... ........"People knew little to nothing about the issues......they voted based on whose name, blah blah blah" How do you know? What, did you go around taking the temperature of all the voters? Exit poll? Oh. wait, your opinion based on what? Your own personal feelings about Eric Siegel? Hmm. Eric Siegel summoned almost five thousand votes. Period. That did not happen accidentally and if it had, the three amigos would have gotten the votes as their signs ran were together in all the lawns. People LIKE Eric Siegel because they know him personally and they respect him. He has built that good will and has earned that respect--by his behavior both publicly and privately. He enjoys wide support, as the numbers point out. Frankly--I also think people voted for him in protest against WLM. This is a small town and things do get around and people generally vote because they DO know the issues.... Sour apples for sure.


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