Increasing the amount of time pupils study core subjects and standardizing the amount of time for physical education, art and music are the recommendations of Columbia County's Elementary Comprehensive Curriculum Review Committee.
Superintendent Tommy Price presented the report to the school board.
But the committee left room for compromise for schools, such as Stevens Creek Elementary, which also want to offer foreign language. While three other schools have some foreign-language instruction, Stevens Creek and South Columbia elementary schools have full-fledged Spanish programs, which are partially funded through a state grant.
The committee suggested that schools be allowed to apply for a waiver to use enrichment time and dollars to teach foreign language if they can show they are meeting the mininum requirements in teaching the core curriculum, physical education, music and art, which it established in that order as priorities.
"I'm pleased," Stevens Creek principal Michelle Paschal said. "We will likely have an option to pursue to continue our program."
But to get the state grant, schools much comply with state requirements - for example, foreign language must be taught for 30 minutes each day. The question remains whether there will be enough time in the day to cover the board's requirements and squeeze in foreign language.
"I think we can find a way," Paschal said. "We were creative when we first started the program, and we will look at creative options to continue it."
The committee's report was presented by Superintendent Tommy Price to Columbia County Board of Education trustees in a meeting Tuesday night that was attended by about three dozen Stevens Creek parents and state Rep. Ben Harbin, a supporter of the Spanish program at Stevens Creek. He vowed to fight at the state level to generate support for the program.
"We have done a tremendous job at Stevens Creek with it," Harbin said. "It's been a huge success. This is not a time for us to retreat. This is a time for us to advance. Let's take the example they've set and move forward."
Stevens Creek and South Columbia were able to join a state pilot program for foreign language five years ago, but it only pays about half of the expense. Stevens Creek relies on some of its enrichment funding from the local board and generous donations from the parent-teacher organization to support the other half. The state legislature has been unwilling to fund it, and the system cannot afford to fully implement it in sll 14 elementary schools, Price said.
"If the board provides funding for foreign language, all students should be provided the opportunity to participate. That program should be the same in all schools and should not take precedence over PE, art and music," Price said.
"Full implementation of the state model in all 14 schools would require 70 foreign language teachers. Using $48,000 as a salary base, that would be $3.7 million annually."
Elementary committee recommendations
One of the primary goals of the committee was to develop a formula to divide enrichment dollars to hire teachers for physical education, music and art. The second task was to standardize the school day. The state requires that schools teach a minimum of 90 hours of physical education and health a week, but "the majority of schools think 120 minutes weekly should be required of all students," said Associate Superintendent of Instruction Jonnie Ghetti.
In grades one through three, the committee recommended 290 minutes per day for core subjects, an increase from 270 minutes. The committee also recommended increasing music and art from 30 minutes to 45 a week. That leaves 85 minutes for lunch, recess and arrival and departure.
For fourth and fifth grades, the committee recommended 300 minutes for core subjects, with 120 minutes weekly for physical education and 45 minutes for music and art.
The committee recommended changing the funding formula for enrichment to more evenly distribute teaching positions among the schools. Under the change, small elementary schools will get three enrichment positions (they now get 3.5), and large schools will have five.
Superintendent Tommy Price also presented a report from the Middle School Comprehensive Review Committee, which recommended starting a two-year foreign-language program in seventh and eighth grades. The committee suggested phasing in the program in 2002-03 and implementing it fully in 2004. The cost is estimated at $250,000 for the first year and $500,000 for full implementation.
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