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School board will look at options for foreign language (11/04/2012)
By Sarah Squires
Winona Area Public Schools Superintendent Scott Hannon gave district leaders an update on several district initiatives Thursday, including information on the way the district might enhance language options for students in ways that have proven successful in other districts across the state.

Hannon told school board members that he and several language teachers toured school buildings in the Minnetonka School District recently. Minnetonka began several years ago to offer strong programs in Spanish and Chinese (language) at each of its six elementary schools. Each school offers either Spanish or Chinese, and the district allows families to open enroll children if the school in closest proximity doesn’t offer the language they would like.

The way Minnetonka started its program is something District 861 Board members have discussed in the past as a more inexpensive way to expand language opportunities. The program started by hiring bilingual kindergarten teachers in the first year. In the second year, bilingual first grade teachers were hired for the program, and it has grown each year in the same way. Now, said Hannon, the program is in its sixth or seventh year, and the students are quite fluent in the language they have chosen to study.

About 50 percent of the Minnetonka students are enrolled in the program. Hannon said it has attracted hundreds of students from outside of the district to the schools. Because most of school funding is provided on a per student basis, that means more income for the district. “It’s a revenue boom for them,” said Hannon.

“Our high school language teachers were blown away by the fluency level of the kids,” he continued. “It was unbelievable to hear those kids talk. [Minnetonka School officials] really feel good about what they are doing.”

Hannon also told the board that the district school calendar committee was working on a study of modified calendar options that will be presented to the board at a later date.

One of the other board initiatives that Hannon and the administrative team have been asked to study is long-range planning for district facilities. Hannon said that was a big job, and information would be presented to the board in the spring of 2013. He said Energy Savings Group, the firm that is currently assessing district school building needs for energy efficiency projects, will produce a report on maintenance and upgrade needs for each district building in the spring. That, he said, would be a good time to start long-range facility planning. 


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