Spanish instruction in seventh and eighth grades will continue as is next year.
But Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price told the board at a meeting Tuesday that more time was needed to study a committee's recommendation to implement foreign language instruction in other grades and to expand the middle grades program.
Price spoke before a house packed with supporters of the foreign language program, some who were happy the system wasn't scaling back the middle school program it started last year and others who were unhappy at the administration's reluctance to move forward with the committee's proposals.
Last year, a committee of parents, teachers and foreign language experts was given free reign to study foreign language instruction. Their final recommendation to the board was that the middle grades program should be expanded - from 30 minutes of core instructional time, to a career connections unit that would expand that time. But the key proposal was that foreign language instruction should be implemented in kindergarten through eighth grade, beginning in kindergarten and adding a grade at a time.
"You are talking about a major curriculum change," Price told the board. "Whatever you do will impact the current curriculum in place. We don't want to do anything in haste. I think we should take the time to do some studying and figure out what will be the best model."
Elementary Curriculum Director Phyllis Means said inclusion of foreign language instruction in elementary school would cause a loss of time in other subjects, particularly in kindergarten and first grade when there is a strong emphasis on reading and mathematics.
"We would be looking at time, how we can fit everything in," she said.
But this time, the board displayed impatience with the administration's slow pace in implementing the committee's recommendations.
"Aren't there numerous studies that show this is a complement and reinforcement to math and reading instruction?," Board Member Lee Muns asked her.
"Its usually done in areas where there is money to support it and it is not wide-spread," Ms. Means answered.
"Nothing that is cutting-edge ever is wide-spread," Muns said. "We keep hearing all these negative things that it can't happen. How much will it cost to do it?"
Stevens Creek and South Columbia elementary schools are the only schools that have a state grant to teach foreign language. It pays for about half of the teachers salaries, but the rest of the money has to come from creative use of other moneys and from the Parent Teacher Organization.
"We have shaved a little bit of time from each area and found 30 minutes in a day to do what we do and I don't think any of our programs have suffered," said Stevens Creek Principal Michelle Paschal, whose school teaches Spanish to kindergarten through fifth graders for 30 minutes each day.
Middle School Curriculum Director Mike Lindsey said there is a concern about making foreign language a "career connections" block because those students who also wanted to take band or chorus would not have time to take physical education. Taking more instructional time would not be advisable, he said, though he acknowledged that the 25 to 30 minutes of instruction now offered wasn't adequate.
"Were already taking away 30 minutes. If we take away 45 minutes, we would be taking 15 percent of core time away from students and that could impact student achievement."
Chris Baum, incoming president of the Stevens Creek PTO, urged the board to expand the foreign language program.
"What we need to be focusing on is a way to provide this educational necessity, not a luxury, to all elementary and middle schools across our system," Baum said. "...Implementation of the proposed middle school model does not provide any real educational value. In fact it borders on wasting valuable and already tightly squeezed instructional time."
"We really need to be starting in elementary school and not be debating about middle school," said Kay Reid, a Stevens Creek Elementary School Spanish teacher who was a committee member. "If we started in elementary school and parents could see the progress, then there would be no debate about continuing it in middle school. If you start in middle school, you are working backwards."
"If we could branch out and become a model for Georgia, what a feather in our cap that would be," said Reid.
Price said the course of action recommended by the committee would likely have a "massive" price tag. To continue with the seventh and eighth grade course next year, four and a half more teachers will have to be hired to carry the current seventh graders into eighth grade instruction. Students earn a high school credit if they pass both years.
"We have to continue what we started in middle school last year and get more creative with our time," said Board Member Regina Buccafussco. "I don't like having it in the core curriculum, but learning connections, we need to figure out a way to shift it around...I would agree to continue what we've got, but only if we make the commitment to make it better."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.