Lets get all this out of the way:
My wife is the principal of Stevens Creek Elementary School, and my youngest daughter is a happy second-grader there.
Those facts make discussion of the future of the schools Spanish program difficult, especially when anything I say will be taken with a grain of salt - you know, hes biased, his wife runs the school, yada yada yada - while any comments bring suspicion that Im just a conduit for spousal propaganda. (Oh, if you only knew what a laugh that is.)
With that settled, lets look at the future - or lack thereof - of Spanish language instruction at Stevens Creek and South Columbia.
The program started five years ago as one of 29 pilot projects around Georgia, a favorite of State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko - who, incidentally, is a former principal of South Columbia.
Funding for Spanish has come mostly from state grants, augmented by shifting of schools individual enrichment allotment of teachers, and from donations by parents and business partners. Because the majority of the money is from sources other than local taxpayers, funding isnt really the issue with keeping the Spanish program.
What is an issue is an innocuous term: Equity.
South Columbia and Stevens Creek provide Spanish instruction using the Elementary School Foreign Language Model, and thus are eligible for state grants; Greenbrier, Evans and North Columbia elementary also have Spanish teachers, paid for with enrichment funds or parent donations. Other Columbia County elementary schools focus their spending on physical education, art or music, and dont have any left for Spanish. So, if everyone cant have Spanish, then no one can.
That assessment isnt likely to be delivered so bluntly in a report Tuesday by the countys Equity Committee, to the Columbia County Board of Education meeting in Appling at 6 p.m. (And, no, it is probably not a coincidence that the report is being delivered at a site nearly 20 miles away from the homes of most of the South Columbia and Stevens Creek parents.)
Instead, the committee will likely overload Board members - who have a lot of catching up to do on this topic - with pamema about time used for enrichment. After dividing up the school days 420 minutes, there wont be much time left for Spanish.
I think there will be some room to keep the program, says School Board member Wayne Bridges, who represents the Stevens Creek district. It may not be exactly as it is now. Other factors are involved, i.e. funding, state requirements for enrichment dollars, etc.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what it all boils down to is the rich ni os at Stevens Creek get to learn Spanish, and the poor ni os at North Harlem and Euchee Creek Elementary dont. Automatically, thats injusto.
Of course, it can be argued that those schools - which perpetually rank at the bottom in Columbia County in school achievement report cards - have an unfair advantage because they get extra federal money through the Title 1 program, which they receive simply by benefit of having large numbers of students consuming still more federal funds by eating free lunch every day.
I wont make that argument. Not while rich snobs at Stevens Creek are scraping up nearly $50,000 out of the own pockets to help pay for Spanish teachers.
It really says something about priorities when one little community is willing to work to raise a significant amount of money just to add extras to their childrens public education. That education is already funded, mind you, through the significant contribution of property tax dollars from those parents, who pay higher taxes than any other residential zone in Columbia County. Their success makes them a convenient target for those unable or unwilling to make similar efforts, just as the success and growth of the Spanish program has made it an object of envy for other schools struggling for achievement.
But what do I know? Im just a husband and a parent. Adios, Espaol.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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