A second-grade classroom in Meadowbrook Elementary has 32 students. That is 10 more than Texas’ maximum classroom size. 

There are many more classrooms like it in east and southeast Fort Worth ISD, according to district figures. 

“That is lopsided,” school board President Tobi Jackson said.

These two areas are where nearly 60% of 127 classrooms exceeding Texas’ 22-student class size limit are located. The Fort Worth ISD school board, which approved a waiver on Sept. 27, wants administrators to find solutions to these overcrowded classrooms. The number of students in these classrooms ranges from 23 to 34. The district’s average students-to-teacher ratio is 14 to 1.

Chief Talent Officer Raúl Peña and Chief of Schools Jerry Moore pinned the packed classes on a lack of teachers. As of Sept. 28, Fort Worth ISD’s job board had more than 62 teaching vacancies.

Headed into the school board meeting, trustee Anne Darr had concerns about the waiver. Those concerns were heightened when she realized most of these crowded classes are east of Interstate 35, where students are more likely to be Black and Hispanic.

“I am not advocating for creating problems in other parts of Fort Worth to remedy problems in one part of Fort Worth,” said Darr, whose District 6 in southwest Fort Worth ISD has four crammed classrooms. “But it is our job to hold this district accountable to ensure that every child has an opportunity to learn and every teacher has the opportunity to be successful.”

The school board has nine single-member districts. Only one does not have classrooms that exceed the state’s maximum: District 5 in west Fort Worth. 

Board Secretary CJ Evans, who represents District 5, also expressed worries about too many students in district classrooms. 

“The schools that need it most, what are we doing to help out teachers there?” she asked Peña and Moore.

Administrators have been able to get additional staff into these classrooms to help teachers, but students need certified educators, Moore said. Substitutes also have been sent to campuses to make smaller classrooms, but that is only a temporary measure, Peña said. 

Peña noted the only way to truly bring the number of students to a classroom down is to fill vacancies. He stressed to trustees that the talent management department is searching for quality teachers and watching the district’s teacher pipelines to turn those numbers around.

Peña’s comments caught the attention of trustees Camille Rodriguez and Wallace Bridges. Rodriguez represents District 1 in north Fort Worth ISD where 12 classrooms have exceeded the state’s limit. Bridges’ District 4 in southeast Fort Worth ISD has 40 crowded classrooms, the most of any trustee.

Rodriguez asked administrators how many of these classrooms have first- or second-year teachers. Peña did not have that data readily available but told Rodriguez he would get that information to the school board.

Across Fort Worth ISD, 51 classrooms are in either a school that was rated a C or not rated. These under-performing schools need stronger, more experienced teachers, Bridges said. 

“When we start looking at tenure at certain schools, we see more rookie teachers at the schools that need to be more solid,” he said.

Finding a solution will be a balancing act, Peña said. Fort Worth ISD has tried to keep the number of classrooms with more than one grade to a minimum. However, the chief talent officer pointed out that this method has spurred the district’s current situation.

Where it gets tricky is at campuses with low enrollments, Peña said. Adding teachers to shrink classroom sizes would increase the cost to run a small campus, he said.

“You start looking at how do we fund these schools well to make sure they are successful,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 29, 2022. The Fort Worth ISD school board approved a waiver to exceed the state maximum classroom size on Sept 27, 2022.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.