Mary Hogan School considers Spanish language program

MIDDLEBURY — Mary Hogan Elementary School directors are considering a new Spanish program for next year that would fit within the parameters of the school day and ensure that young students have a foundation in a second language as they move on to secondary school.
The Middlebury board received an overview of the program earlier this month from Mary Hogan Elementary School Co-principal Tom Buzzell, who tentatively placed the costs of a proposed Spanish offering at between $90,000 and $200,000. The board of the ID-4 school district, should it choose to green-light the program, will have to decide whether to build its costs within the 2013-2014 school operating budget or pitch it as a separate request to voters next spring.
“We are still waiting for more information,” ID-4 board Chairwoman Karen Lefkoe said of the Spanish program proposal. “We expect to talk about this again in January.”
The ID-4 board has been seriously exploring the resurrection of a second language program at Mary Hogan Elementary for almost three years. It was in January of 2010 that 90 Middlebury residents signed a petition requesting second-language instruction. The school used to offer French classes but had to drop the offering several years ago due to budget constraints.
Acknowledging an increasingly global society, Addison Central Supervisory Union schools have been looking to offer students more opportunities to learn a second language. While Weybridge and Ripton elementary schools offer such programs, most ACSU students don’t have access to second language courses until the 8th grade.
The ACSU K-12 Second Language Committee issued a report a year ago recommending that district schools offer second-language instruction for all children in kindergarten through 7th grade, provided officials can hash out current transportation and class scheduling obstacles. ID-4 administrators believe they have solved those issues — tied to teachers’ contracts and bus arrival/departure times — for a Spanish program that would:
•  Be offered to all students K-6, or limited to either grades K-2 or grades 3-6. The K-6 option would provide for 62 sections of the course to be offered each week under the direction of two full-time (0.8 to 1 full-time equivalent) teachers at a cost of $175,000-$200,000, according to Buzzell. The more limited scenario calls for two part-time instructors, at a cost of $90,000 to $100,000. Both cost estimates include salaries, benefits, course materials, laptops, professional development and related paraprofessional wages.
•  Be woven within other non-core subject classes offered at the school, such as physical education, art, music, library media, health and guidance.
•  Fit into the contracted school day as a result of what Buzzell called a “minor change to the transportation system.” He explained that Mary Hogan Elementary students are currently “the last to be dropped off in the morning and the first to be picked up in the afternoon.” Buzzell is proposing that Mary Hogan students be the first to be dropped off in the morning, which would allow them to enter school by 7:50 a.m. at the earliest and 8:10 a.m. at the latest. This would allow teachers to begin full class instruction by 8:15 a.m. (instead of the current 8:30 a.m.), thereby netting an additional 75 minutes in weekly class time to allow for Spanish. Specifically, it would provide for three Spanish classes per week for grades 1-6 and two classes per week for kindergarteners. It would preserve other aspects of the current schedule, including other classes, lunch/recess, and common planning time for teachers, according to Buzzell.
Buzzell noted the earlier start time for classes would comply with the negotiated agreement with district teachers for a 6-hour, 45-minute student day. Fellow Co-principal Bonnie Bourne said she hopes an earlier start to classes would not pose a hardship for parents who drive their children to school.
School officials said that while they see the value of a second language program, they will have to weigh it within the context of other school priorities as they continue to craft a 2013-2014 spending plan that will be fielded by Middlebury voters next April. Including the price within the operating budget would substantially bump a request put to voters that has, in recent years, been limited to an increase of around 3 percent or less.
Officials said the ID-4 Spanish program, if fully implemented, would result in an increase of roughly $55 to the annual property tax bill of a Middlebury resident with a $200,000 home. The board could present the program as a separate ballot option.
“We don’t think everyone will consider this the best way to spend taxpayers’ money for the students,” Lefkoe acknowledged. “There are other potential program priorities.”
That said, Lefkoe believes that Spanish instruction would be a “wonderful” offering for students.
The board will need to decide by February on whether to back the proposal for inclusion on the April 2013 ID-4 annual meeting warning.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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