The Lawrence school district plans to use $260,000 from federal grants this year to reduce the size of first-grade classes.
The money could have been used to cut teacher-to-student ratios in kindergarten through third grades, but the district targeted first-graders.
"There's a lot of research that says smaller class size helps student achievement," said Mary Rodriguez, the district's executive director of human resources.
The grant funding allowed the district to sign nine teachers to one-year contracts and assign them to schools expected to have the heaviest enrollment of first-graders. The goal is to trim classes to 17 or fewer students.
Without the federal money, some Lawrence schools would have had first-grade classes with as many as 27 students.
The schools benefiting from extra teachers are Centennial, Deerfield, East Heights, Hillcrest, Riverside, Schwegler, Sunset Hill, Quail Run, Broken Arrow and Woodlawn.
Janet Stallard, a first-grade teacher at Schwegler School, said she expected to have a class with 14 to 16 students this year. That will free her to better personalize instruction especially reading.
"Teaching them to read is one of our top priorities," she said. "A smaller class size makes it easier."
Riverside Assistant Principal David Theilen said smaller classes could have a profound effect on reading performance.
"You can assess more often. You can monitor better and then adapt your instruction more effectively," he said.
Rodriguez said first-grade classes in 14 of the district's 19 elementary schools would have no more than 17 students, assuming there were no enrollment surprises between now and the first day of classes Aug. 18.
The largest first-grade classes, with 21 students each, will be at Sunflower and Pinckney schools. Kennedy, New York and Prairie Park schools also will exceed the district's 17-student target, Rodriguez said.
A committee of Lawrence teachers and administrators studied class size. The group concluded that federal grant money flowing to the district would be most useful in first-grade classes.
Last year, the district had only enough federal grant support to finance 5.5 teaching positions to reduce class sizes.
In a perfect world, Rodriguez said, all kindergarten through third-grade classes would have 13 to 17 students.
But, she said, "right now it's cost-prohibitive."