Mary Hogan delays Spanish curriculum

MIDDLEBURY — School directors in Middlebury have decided to delay the introduction of Spanish language teaching at Mary Hogan Elementary School for at least a year. The decision came in the wake of concerns voiced by some teachers about how the program would be implemented and whether those resources would be best spent on other needs.

The board’s decision, affirmed at a meeting Monday evening, came after school officials had tentatively agreed to build around $60,000 into the 2011-2012 ID-4 school district budget to begin Spanish instruction for grades K-2. Plans then called for the class to be extended to an additional grade level per year until fully implemented as a K-6 program.

A group of citizens had petitioned ID-4 directors more than a year ago to consider offering a second language at the Mary Hogan school as a means of better preparing children for global career opportunities. The petitioners also noted the general educational advantage of teaching languages to students at an early age.

But some local teachers appeared before the ID-4 school board on Jan. 10 to challenge the merits of offering a Spanish language program at this time. The alluded to an already cramped school day and a growing population of students who could benefit from extra help in subjects that are currently being offered.

“We are very concerned about the tight schedule we have now and what we could possibly not teach as much in order to accommodate those time constraints,” Mary Hogan Elementary 5th-grade teacher Phyllis Laliberte told the board.

Fellow Mary Hogan Elementary teacher Cathy Byers agreed.

“At this point, we don’t have a moment of free time in our schedule — not ever,” Byers told the board.

Byers said approximately 40 percent of the students she is serving are learning below grade level, particularly in such areas of writing and spelling.

“When we look at that population, we say, ‘Well, where should our time be spent and where should that money be spent?’” Byers said. “To me, it seems we have a much greater need to be hiring a reading intervention specialist or to be hiring a third guidance counselor for the younger grades, where there’s a huge need.”

Byers said that given those existing needs, she believed “looking at a Spanish teacher seems sort of frivolous right now to me, because it’s only a very small part of the population who is ready to do that. Most of our kids are having a hard enough time in English.”

Based on that and other feedback, a majority of the Mary Hogan school board elected not to include money in the 2011-2012 budget to begin implementing Spanish instruction. Instead, the board agreed to earmark around $3,000 to help an ad hoc committee study the potential implementation of a Spanish program for the 2012-2013 academic year.

That decision did not sit well with Spanish program boosters, who noted they did not have a chance to offer their point of view at the Jan. 10 meeting because the Spanish program had not been previously announced as a topic on the meeting agenda.

“To put something on the agenda at the last minute and then to change something fairly dramatically seemed like it didn’t follow the ideal process,” Erik Bleich, a parent of two young children, told the board at its meeting this past Monday.

“I was extremely disappointed the board decided to act when (the topic) was not warned for public discussion,” said Mary Hogan school board member and Spanish program supporter Ruth Hardy.

Corinna Noelke was among several language program supporters and parents who turned out on Monday to voice their dismay and urge directors to reconsider their decision.

“I think it is too important a topic to ignore, for our children’s future,” said Noelke, a member of a previous committee that recommended a Spanish program at the Mary Hogan Elementary.

Maren Mecham, a parent of two current Mary Hogan Elementary students, urged the board not to postpone plans for a Spanish program. She said her children recently benefited from Spanish instruction during a brief period of schooling in another state.

“They suddenly believed they could learn another language,” Mecham said. “That is a fun thing to see in your child. I would love to see that happen here.”

The school board stopped short on Monday of restoring the Spanish program money into the 2011-2012 budget, but Chairwoman Lucy Schumer stressed she and her colleagues would not abandon the initiative.

“The board completely supports the idea of a second language initiative,” Schumer said. “In no way do we question its educational validity.”

Schumer summarized her current concerns with the proposed Spanish program as being:

• A curriculum, and long-term impact on the school budget, has not yet been fleshed out.

“I felt it was important that the programbe sustainable,” Schumer said.

• The challenge of introducing a Spanish offering into an already full school day.

• The fact that most other elementary schools in the Addison Central Supervisory Union don’t have second language programs. As a result, not all students in the ACSU would enter secondary school with the same language skills.

“I think there’s an equity piece to this,” Schumer said.

She added she hoped some of these issues can be addressed in the months ahead to pave the way for a successful program.

Noelke said she’s disappointed a Spanish program won’t be offered in ID-4 next year, but said she will work to make sure such a class is offered as soon as possible.

“I plan to be on the curriculum committee,” Noelke said, adding she hopes there is better communication between the school and the community going forward.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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