Parents at a public hearing March 5 told school officials they want more, not less.
They want more enrichment programs and they want foreign language to be considered in the mix of enrichment offerings.
In response, Columbia County school officials say they are rethinking the way they plan to assign enrichment teachers.
About 30 parents attended the public hearing on the proposed Elementary Curriculum Guidelines, most from smaller school such as Euchee Creek and Evans Elementary, which were set to lose a half-time teaching position under the original formula to allocate physical education, music and art teachers - one for every eight classes.
"My child has Spanish and art once a week and PE five times a week and is meeting a standard in core subjects," said Wendy Paschal, parent of an Evans Elementary pupil. "Now you are talking about reducing the quality of my child's education. Why don't you look at the schools that are not performing well and work on bringing those up? ... Don't set a median and bring down the good to bring the bad up to the middle."
The parents want the school board to start with a base of two physical education teachers, one music teacher and one art teacher at every school, then add more at larger schools. Instead of taking away enrichment positions, some schools such as Euchee Creek would actuallygain half a position; they now have only a half-time art teacher.
"We acknowledge that there may be some logic in starting from a base and going from there," Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said. "You do get away from equity when you do that, but that may be what we want."
With this plan, Price said, enrichment teachers at smaller schools would have fewer classes to teach than those at larger schools. Under the formula that was originally proposed, all enrichment teachers would have had a full schedule of classes throughout the day.
"The review grew out of the fact that for many years each school was given three enrichment teachers - two physical education and one for music," Price said. "A couple of years ago we looked at school size and discovered that there was no differential. It didn't matter if the school had 400 (pupils) or was a large school with 1,000. We started asking questions: Is that fair? And the obvious answer is no. We felt a need to bring some parity to it."
Every school now has a minimum of three and a half enrichment positions. The plan the parents favor would raise that to four.
The Elementary Comprehensive Curriculum Review Committee - which met this year to study equity issues in the county - also has proposed curriculum guidelines that increase the amount of time pupils spend studying core subjects such as English, math, science and social studies, and standardize the time of enrichment classes such as physical education, music and art.
The schedule, as it is proposed, would leave only about 45 minutes a day for enrichment classes - physical education three times a week, and art and music once a week.
But schools also could apply for a waiver to offer additional enrichment classes - such as a foreign language - if they could show they were meeting the minimum requirements.
"Equity is not synonymous with sameness," Price said. "It has never been our desire to have each school look the same. How they use that staff and what courses they offer will be up to the schools."
Price said that he will add foreign language to the list of enrichment priorities for the county and that the school system would conduct a study of foreign language in elementary schools.
"The committee didn't say it had the expectation that every child would have Spanish, but that it would be an enrichment program that could be offered," Price said.
Several parents urged school officials to support foreign language instruction in the elementary schools.
"It should be part of the core curriculum. They need it not just for enrichment, but also as a tool for success in the future." said North Columbia parent Miller Birdsong, pointing to the explosion of the Spanish population in Columbia County and in the nation.
The school board already has tentatively approved the committee's three recommendations, but delayed a final vote on the issue because of public outcry. The board likely will discuss it again at the board meeting Tuesday night at the Evans Government Complex.
1. Establish a minimum time for study of core subjects:
290 minutes for grades one through three
300 minutes for fourth and fifth grades
2. Prioritize enrichment offerings:
physical education, 120 minutes per week
music, 40 minutes per week
art, 40 minutes per week
3. Establish a waiver process to allow the schools to deviate from these two guidelines with board approval
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