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Hopkins School Board Approves Elementary Spanish Instruction

The district will teach Spanish in every elementary school starting in the 2013-14 school year.

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.

Stan Berris February 23, 2013 at 06:10 PM
The parents are not leaving the district because of the lack of a world language program. The message is the same now as it was when I was on the school board - the parents want smaller class sizes in our elementary programs. Having 30+ students in a classroom in our elementary schools will need to be addressed in order to solve people leaving or not willing to even start in our district. And I support the concerns of Director Donovan and McIntosh Coleman. Something will have to go in order to afford this additional cost and I have not heard the board or administration say want they are willing to lose over this new program. Class size cannot get any larger so some other program must be cut in order to sustain the additional cost of a new program. The board should be up front and transparent with the community and tell us what will be cut. Is it Art or Orchestra, Science or Technology? Paying from our savings account is what put us in SOD only a few short years ago and it appears that the new board members and perhaps the public has quickly forgotten about what it was like to be cutting programs just to keep the lights on in our district. We are heading into a storm and I hope the same board members that are steering the ship into the storm will be the same members willing to take us out of it (unlike the last time)!
Michele Pasko February 24, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I completely agree with Directors Donovan and McIntosh Coleman, and former School Board member Berris. Class size (and consequently our teachers' ability to focus on teaching rather than class management) is far more important than adding even more curriculum. Aside from the monetary cost, when will Spanish logistically fit into the school day? What will be dropped? Art? Music? Please not phys ed. or recess - the students need the physical outlet. And remember, several years ago Hopkins offered Spanish in the elementary schools, but the program was cut to save money. Can we really afford it now?
Kathryn Hernke February 25, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Interesting. I think the concerns expressed by Directors Donovan and McIntosh Coleman are valid, yet I support the overall decision of the school board. In my opinion this is not a program to attract or retain students, it’s applying current research on language acquisition (start before age 8) to the foreign language programming provided by Hopkins Schools. Parents with young children see language as a curriculum basic, not a “bonus.” I don’t think this move alone will make a significant dent in families leaving the district, but I do think if it were presented as a package deal, with transparent policies on how class size and issues involving frequent class disruption are addressed and a blueprint demonstrating how 40-120 minutes of Spanish instruction will added to the elementary schedule (with recess, phys ed, art, music, reading and math still represented) each week, the combined effect could be powerful.
Ellen Stewart Dustman March 01, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Current research on language acquisition through FLES programs is mixed. Many experts agree that students who participate in a full immersion program starting at a young age are more likely to "speak" fluently. However, adolescents and adults learn languages quicker and are more likely to attain written fluency. FLES programs produce cultural awareness, but do not produce fluency, oral or written. This is what the Hopkins world language curriculum director, Molly Weiland, stated in 2007: “There are many reasons why so many of our surrounding districts are choosing foreign language immersion programs: Foreign language immersion programs develop bilingual and bicultural students more effectively than FLES programs do, and they do so with minimal financial cost to the district. In fact, with the families that immersion programs keep in school districts and attract from other school districts, they are actually revenue generating.” This is an incredibly expensive program that will bankrupt the district if we don’t add at least 85 new kindergartners (+17% increase) and then retain the students through 12th grade. Considering that the 2012 statewide enrollment figures showed a 3% decline, this seems unlikely to me. Even with a large fund balance, a case can be made that the district is actually in WORSE shape than in 2007 when it was emerging from SOD. The 2012 Hopkins School District CAFR shows a structural deficit that will only increase with this budget.

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