Mesa County’s Largest School District Has Too Many Online Students, Not Enough Teachers

Allison Sherry/CPR News
Students at Orchard Mesa Middle School in Grand Junction, October 2017.

Teachers assigned to online learning in Mesa County’s District 51, which covers Grand Junction, have been contending with class sizes far beyond what they ever faced in the actual classroom.

At a work session Tuesday night to address the challenges of online learning, school board members heard that middle and high school teachers have up to 300 students each. In the elementary grades, the ratio is around 48:1. 

District 51 opened for in-person learning last month, but gave families the option to go online instead. About 2700 kids, around twice what the district expected, signed up for it. Overall, the district has around 20,000 students.

“This is just unprecedented times,” said school board president Tom Parrish. “Somehow all of us are going to have to work on our ambiguity tolerance and our flexibility, and the realization that what we're dealing with this year is what we might be dealing with next year.”

The board agreed Tuesday to shift up to 30 teachers from their current assignments to better manage class sizes. Most of those teachers will go to online learning, although some will move between physical schools.

Danny Medved, director of professional learning at District 51, told the board that just weeks into the new school year, online teachers are very much feeling the stress of large class sizes. 

“They're not happy right now. Many of them are pretty overwhelmed,” he said. “We had three long-term subs start on Monday and all three resigned by the end of the week.”