Hopkins elementary students are set to receive regular Spanish instruction starting in the 2013-14 school year following a preliminary School Board vote Thursday to establish an elementary world languages curriculum.
“World language has been in surrounding districts for several years. We do a great job with teaching kids culture, but it’s not a replacement for teaching kids world languages or languages other than English,” Superintendent John Schultz said. “It’s really the right thing to do in the21st Century.
The board’s decision commits the district to spending $6 million over the next 10 years on elementary Spanish instruction. In the initial year, all elementary schools will provide world languages to kindergarteners and first graders. They’ll add a grade level each year until the district has a full kindergarten through sixth grade curriculum.
Kindergarteners will receive three 20-minute periods of instruction each week. First through fourth graders will receive three 30-minute periods per week. Fifth and sixth graders will receive two hour-long blocks of instruction per week.
The district expects students to be ready to have a level II proficiency once they’ve completed the elementary program. Lisa Shafranski, the district’s world language coordinator, said the larger goal is to have students proficient in the language on the way to fluency by the time they graduate.
“We all know people who say, ‘I took four years of a language, and I can’t speak a word,’” Shafranski said. “That’s not acceptable any more. That doesn’t work for our kids.”
A costly proposal
Yet the proposal’s cost worried some of the School Board directors. Directors Wendy Donovan and Irma McIntosh Coleman both vote against the idea.
“Something has to go. Something has to give. There has not been a discussion of what that might look,” McIntosh Coleman said. “You don’t initiate a program knowing you can’t sustain it. It’s not fair to our public and, most importantly, it’s not fair to our kids.”
Said Donovan: “It’s the cost. It is the cost. There’s no trade off. We’re not giving up anything. We’re adding.”
Director Warren Goodroad wound up supporting the proposal. But he encouraged district administrators to look for savings and use technology to lower the costs—adding out that the district doesn’t need “a Cadillac” level of programming if something more basic economic could work.
“It’s a stretch for us. We are stretching to do this. It’s a worthwhile investment, but we really do have to look very carefully at how it fits in the overall picture,” Goodroad said. “I think in terms of investing this money, we want to get something out of this because we are borrowing against our reserves as far as I’m concerned.”
An investment in the future
But the district does have clear expectations of what it wants out of the program: More students and the money that goes along with them.
The district’s enrollment has been declining. Although that’s partly because of demographic trends, it’s also because of open enrollment. Even though open enrollment into the district has been growing, it hasn’t lately been growing as fast as open enrollment out of the district.
This fall’s enrollment . Then at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, the district announced enrollment had decreased by 81 students since Oct. 1—a $500,000 hit to the district if those numbers carry through to next year.
The district hopes elementary Spanish instruction will encourage people to stay in the district. Director Steve Adams calculated that the program would pay for itself if it persuades 84 students stay in the district.
“I certainly think we can attract that many people to the district,” he said.
There’s no denying that residents want elementary world language. A 2011 survey found that 80 percent to 89 percent of parents wanted it. Those parents included parents who live in the district and send their kids to Hopkins schools, parents who open enroll into Hopkins schools, parents who open enroll out of Hopkins schools and preschool parents—the entire spectrum that Hopkins wants to attract or retain.
“This is a program that I believe has driven people away from the district. Your enrollment will not change unless you invest,” Schultz said.
In addition, Hopkins has the highest unassigned fund balance—or savings—of any of the surrounding districts, said John Toop, the district’s director of business services. The Citizens Financial Advisory Committee said the district use any savings greater than 10 percent of the district’s budget—currently 6.47 percent—for programming that attracts and retains enrollment.
Director Betsy Anderson predicted the School Board will look back on this vote as one that shaped Hopkins as a district.
“This is a moment for us to be bold, for us to take a risk,” she said.