ACSU weighs option of second language

MIDDLEBURY — An Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) committee will spend the next three months studying the feasibility of offering a second-language program to students throughout the seven-town school district.
Most students in the ACSU currently do not have access to second language instruction until grade 8, though Weybridge Elementary currently operates a successful Spanish program. Officials at Mary Hogan Elementary in Middlebury are also now exploring the prospect of offering a second language.
The ACSU board on Sept. 21 endorsed Superintendent Gail Conley’s charge for the K-12 Second Language Study Committee to assess how an intensive second-language program could be built for grades K-12, determine the potential costs of such an offering, and figure out how it could be offered within the time constraints of the current academic day.
The panel will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 3:15 p.m. in the conference room at the ACSU building off Charles Avenue in Middlebury. Conley has asked that the committee deliver a written report of its findings by the end of December. The ACSU includes elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Salisbury, Shoreham, Middlebury, Ripton and Weybridge, along with Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
Jan Willey, ACSU assistant superintendent, said it makes sense for the district to consider expanding the scope of its second language offerings given international trends and the close proximity of Middlebury College — a national leader in language instruction.
“I think it is overdue that we are looking at this topic,” Willey said, adding multilingualism is becoming the norm in most other countries in the world.
But district officials acknowledged that implementing a second language program would not be an easy feat.
“One of the challenges is, there is no uniform length of our school day,” Willey said, alluding to different schedules in place at the ACSU elementary schools.
“Putting something new into the school day will be a huge issue for the schools with shorter school days,” Willey said. And she noted the length of the school day is part of the teacher contracts.
And if there is no wiggle room in the length of the school day, adding a language class could mean shortening or displacing time for another subject, officials said.
“A lot of questions have to be answered,” said ACSU board Chairman Mark Perrin.
Mary Hogan Elementary School will be facing its own language program decision in the near future. The current ID-4 school district budget includes $2,953 for a committee to develop a second-language program that is slated to be presented to the ID-4 board this fall. It will then be up to the ID-4 board to approve, modify of reject the program for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Perrin stressed the purpose of the K-12 Second Language Study Committee is to complete the research to enable individual schools within the district to better decide whether to offer second language instruction. Such a program would not be mandated at the schools.
“Each school will have to make a decision on how to move forward,” Perrin said.
The committee, according to Willey, includes Middlebury Union High School Principal William Lawson, MUHS language teacher Carma Fitzpatrick, Middlebury Union Middle School Principal Inga Duktig, and ID-4 board member Jennifer Bleich. District officials have also Middlebury College a spot on the panel.
In other action on Sept. 21, the ACSU board:
•  Designated board member Peter Conlon of Cornwall to begin laying the groundwork for the ACSU’s search for a new superintendent. Conley is serving for one year as the interim superintendent in wake of the departure last June of Lee Sease, whose contract was not renewed.
•  Received an update on the work of an ad hoc committee studying potential consolidation of governance and resources within ACSU schools. Weybridge Elementary recently held a community forum on the topic, with other schools to follow suit.
•  Held an executive session meeting to discuss a lawsuit brought against the ACSU by former business Manager Sharon Stearns (see related story).
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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