Massachusetts: Schools may scrap $150K foreign language program

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 3 15:46:26 UTC 2007

Schools may scrap $150K foreign language program
By James Lindsay/Correspondent
GateHouse News Service
Fri Jun 01, 2007, 12:32 PM EDT
 Sharon -

While the override for next year's school budget passed easily at both Town
Meeting and the annual Town Election earlier this month, all its components
may not be implemented next year. The schools may not have enough time to
hire teachers and set up a curriculum for the elementary foreign language
program, interim Superintendent Dr. Barbara Dunham said at Wednesday's
School Committee meeting. The program, which was lost in 2006 when a state
grant was cut in 2006, was slated to return next year at a cost of $150,000,
approximately eight percent of the $1.7 million override to help cover
budget shortages in next year's operating budget. The implementation of the
program, however, has hit some logistical roadblocks just two weeks after
voters approved the tax increase which would made it possible.

"The discussion centered around the language of choice," said Dunham, noting
that the district has been moving away from French, and that the high school
already has a strong Spanish program in place. "Chinese may be the way to
go," she said, but also suggested that it may be beneficial to have a
different foreign language taught at each of the three elementary schools.
Other suggestions included Russian, Japanese, Arabic, and Hebrew. Particular
emphasis will be put on languages with non-phonetic (or at least non-Latin)
alphabets. Chinese and Japanese are not phonetic. Russian is a phonetic
language but uses a Cyrillic alphabet.

"The languages you learn first and second should be as different as possible
so that every other language will be somewhere in between" in its degree of
difficulty, said School Committee chairman Sam Liao, who speaks more than
five languages. The other problem is one of timing. "It's not clear that the
debate (on which language or languages to teach) will be done in time to
advertise for the right teachers to be hired in time," said Liao. There is
also the issue of tying the foreign language program into the existing
curriculum. There is the possibility of reinforcing the language classes
with history and social studies courses, Dunham said, but was unsure of how
to continue the program through middle and high school.

"We will honor the voters," said Dunham, adding that the schools will either
return the allocated $150,000 to the town or use it to implement the
language program in 2009 if it is not feasible for next year.

The committee hopes to officially vote on the matter next Wednesday, when
outgoing Superintendent Dr. Claire Jackson, herself a specialist in foreign
language education, will make her formal recommendations on the
implementation of the program.

In other business, the committee voted to amend its student cell phone use
policy. The old policy strictly banned the use of cell phones during school
hours. The new policy changed the term "cell phones" to "electronic devices"
and allows their use in the event of an emergency.
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