Darien BOE revisits foreign language program
By Ben Holbrook
After a plea from parents failed to get a foreign language program implemented for the current school year, the Board of Educated is considering bringing Spanish into the elementary schools.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone began the discussion by explaining what his administration was considering after receiving feedback from the community and BOE members.
"We want to develop a modicum of proficiency so that we can teach kids to speak, read and write Spanish," he said. "Based on our goals we believe we can be successful."
Before the program can be brought into the schools however, the district will need to hire teachers which could present a challenge.
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"There's probably not a great pool of teachers for this out there but we think we can find them. We're looking for special people with a special skill set," Falcone said.
One of the things Falcone said he would like to see if the program is approved is that the district commits to making it a success. He said when the Mandarin Chinese course was first developed, it started as a course description but the district committed to making it a success.
"We have principals and teachers who believe in this program. This is not a fly-by-night operation," he said.
The proposed structure for the Spanish program at the elementary level would be a weekly 45-minute course. Falcone said his administration believed the course would work as long as everyone in the schools embraced it.
"There are trade-offs in terms of time and finances but this is a program we feel we can deliver well," he said.
After giving his presentation, board members were invited to ask questions or offer suggestions for what they would like to see happen with the program. BOE member Clara Sartori suggested possibly using a pilot program to gauge the effectiveness before bringing it into all of the elementary schools.
"I spent today going over past proposals and I had my doubts before but now I think I feel much more supportive of this," she said. "I still wonder about doing a pilot program. It is important to note we have a lot of things in place already to make this happen."
BOE member Susan Perticone said she fully backed the plan put forth by Falcone's administration and noted the issue would never be resolved until teachers were hired.
"Until we have the teachers in the building we'll just go around and around," she said.
Like Perticone, BOE member James Plutte said he was glad to see the program moving forward but said the issue with the foreign language program was that it was the only one during his tenure with the BOE that was expected to be perfect from the beginning. BOE member Michael Harman was also pleased to see progress being made but questioned whether more information was needed before implementing a pilot program.
Board members Amy Bell and Morgan Whittier both raised questions about how the program would be sold to the community come budget season and how the district could determine standards of excellence for the program.
"Our district has been very fortunate over the past few years to get programs through and we all agree that we have to embrace the foreign language program. I think we need to take a rigid stance and consider alternatives to alternative timing, days and even phases," Whittier said. "We all want to see a foreign language program but getting the entire community behind it is the project."
The BOE is expected to vote on the issue at its next meeting Dec. 13.