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Teachers seek $1.7 million expansion of language program

| Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Teachers in the world languages department at North Allegheny hope to spend about $1.7 million during the next seven years to expand the district's language program.

The world languages department recently completed an 18-month curriculum review to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the program, establish a program that meets the needs of all the district's students and expand the program in a 'fiscally responsible manner.'

Jay Thomas, chairman of the department, presented the curriculum review to the school board at its meeting last week.

Thomas presented the board with 10 recommendations for improving the program, including:

  • Offer sixth-graders a full-year course consisting of four nine-week segments, one each in French, German, Latin and Spanish. The current program starts in seventh grade.

  • Offer five-year language programs, rather than just four years.

  • Limit enrollment of classes to 25 students for sixth through 11th grade and 24 students per Advanced Placement class.

  • Offer language courses during the school day in the district's elementary schools.

  • Keep foreign language as part of a student's core curriculum.

  • Adopt a philosophy and goals for the department that include diversity.

    If the school board were to approve the plan, it would cost the district about $1.3 million for elementary language teachers, $247,775 for textbooks and $225,070 for computers during the next seven years.

    Dennis Barrett, district superintendent, said the plan fits into the district's goal to become of the top 100 U.S. school districts.

    'One of the ways we become a top 100 school district is to have a powerful, world-class foreign-language curriculum,' Barrett said.

    During a discussion about the curriculum review, board members had a number of questions about the department's plans.

    Vice President Joe Morrison asked if the proposed elementary courses would be optional or required.

    Thomas said the proposed courses likely would be required. The district currently offers optional after-school language programs.

    Morrison also questioned whether there would be enough extra time in the day to offer the language courses at the elementary level.

    Thomas said he did not know how the courses would fit into the day because the matter has yet to studied fully.

    Board member Jim Beierle said he did not understand how the department even could have considered an elementary program without seeing if it would fit into the day. He also questioned what the existing classroom teachers would do while the language courses were being taught.

    'I've been an advocate of bringing the foreign languages into the elementary for a long time,' Beierle said. 'But I don't want another pullout.'

    Right now, elementary school students are 'pulled out' for classes such as music and an enrichment program for gifted students. In the past, the board and parents have complained about the pullout classes creating scheduling difficulties and taking time away from instruction in other subjects.

    In regard to what the current classroom teachers would do during language instruction, Thomas said, the teachers probably would help with the instruction.

    In response Beierle's other questions, Thomas again said the elementary program had yet to be studied.

    Frank Brettschneider, assistant superintendent for elementary education and curriculum, said he would not recommend approving a pullout foreign-language program at the elementary level.

    Ashley Gerwig can be reached at agerwig@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7112.

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