EAST WENATCHEE — Isis Hernandez-Cazzanigi always knew she’d be a kindergarten teacher. She just didn’t think it would happen over one weekend.
Hernandez-Cazzanigi, 33, had spent the five years after getting her teaching certificate as an Eastmont School District liaison. Last year, the bilingual staffer was working with students from migrant families, helping them prepare for graduation.
But on a Thursday last September, she got a tap on the shoulder: Could she start teaching a class of incoming 5-year-olds on Monday?
“They caught me off guard,” Hernandez-Cazzanigi said. “It was like, ‘You’re teaching.’”
Eastmont schools had encountered what executive director Bob Busk called “a bubble” — a two-year, 12-percent surge in kindergarten enrollments that sent the district scrambling to cut down class sizes for its littlest students.
“It’s not an exact science, predicting kindergarten,” Busk said. “It’s the only one we can’t predict.”
The district — already stressed by space constraints as it worked to renovate Sterling Middle School — took in 420 kindergarteners for the 2012-13 school year. It was the second year in a row that enrollment hit that level, despite expectations that the number would drop back toward its average of 360 kindergarten students.
Kindergarten enrollment opens in March but isn’t completed until late summer. Most enrollees are traditionally on the class rolls by June, but last summer, the numbers jumped from 314 to 420 between June and the close of enrollment. Lee Elementary School suddenly had 105 kindergarteners, for example, compared to its midsummer level of 64.
“We look at a 12-year history for kindergarten, but every so often we get this huge bubble,” Busk said. “I can’t tell you why.”
The ZIP codes that feed into Eastmont have lost 695 people overall between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. census — but at the same time, the Hispanic population there has more than doubled, to about 5,600, and a third of Hispanic households in 2010 had children under age 6. Hispanic children are 41 percent of current kindergarten enrollment, Busk said, up from about 32 percent five years ago.
For the first few days of class, Eastmont had a kindergarten crunch, with classrooms closing in on 30 kids apiece. Then the district recruited four certified teachers working in non-classroom positions to jump into teaching. Hernandez-Cazzanigi was one, and she and her peers had the weekend to organize supplies, set up workspaces, and develop lesson plans for their unexpected students.
“It was challenging to get a classroom ready in three days,” she said. “There was really no time.”
The measure pulled some students away from teachers they’d just met, and sorted them into new classrooms with new teachers. But it met Eastmont’s goal, getting kindergarten class sizes down to about 23 kids per room districtwide. Hernandez-Cazzanigi teaches 24 students, with aid from a paraprofessional educator.
“It’s not something we liked to do,” Busk said. “You want the kids to have a nice flow to the year. But you cannot have 30 kids in a classroom.”
The four teachers moved into classrooms have all done “an amazing job,” Busk said.
Hernandez-Cazzanigi, a Wenatchee High School graduate, had kindergarten instruction as a personal goal after completing her teacher training at Eastern Washington University. “They absorb everything you say, everything you teach,” she said, “and it’s easy for them to learn.”
Her advice for other teachers called on to suddenly run their own class: “Work hard. Do what you have to do to get the classroom prepared for them. Because it’s all about them, it’s not about you.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123