Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board members have asked a team of district administrators and teachers to study an expanded language program which could be implemented during the next school year. Superintendent Scott Hannon has led the effort, and reported a tentative plan that would add a half-day of classes taught in Spanish in one or two sections of kindergarten at a district elementary school, then add similar classes through grade four as the first class advanced.
Touted as a way that enhanced language offerings could be added to the district without a large expense, Hannon said he believed the program could be implemented for little to no added cost. Under the plan, new, bilingual teachers would replace those lost through retirement or attrition, allowing regular classroom teachers to switch course content to Spanish for part of the day.
Hannon told the board last week that he had met with Madison Elementary teachers after they invited him to the school to learn more, and an unscientific survey showed most respondents supported an expanded language program.
One School Board member remains critical of the tentative plan. While prefacing his arguments with statements of support for language learning in general, board member Steve Schild has objected to a foreign language program that would provide enhanced language opportunities for just one or two sections of students. Instead, Schild has advocated for the exploration of more options — those that might include more students across the district.
The remainder of the board has supported the concept of partial immersion as a way to boost foreign language without the cost of adding new staff members. Schild called Hannon's estimate that the program would cost little to nothing a "vast oversimplification" of the cost, requiring a perfect scenario of retirement and attrition and applicants for teaching positions.
"I asked repeatedly for options," Schild told Hannon last week, when he said the survey conducted was unscientific, and did not ask questions about other foreign language approaches. "Regardless of the validity or the readability of the data, people will look at it and say 'here's what they say,'" he said of the survey, to which 66 parents, 74 community members, and five local business representatives responded.
Schild said foreign language course options should be studied as part of the district's current facility study. One possible budget-saving scenario offered during the last round of budget cuts, said Schild, was a grade level building plan that promised an estimated savings of $172,000. Examining the district's physical spaces and their future could present opportunities to craft a foreign language plan that would reach more students, he said.
Board member Ben Baratto, a retired Spanish teacher himself, said that Hannon's plan would also add Spanish 1 to the seventh grade curriculum for all district seventh graders. Board member Jay Kohner said he thought the immersion program would grow year to year.
Hannon, who previously brought a list of options for expanding foreign language offerings to the board, said he spent more time on the partial immersion concept because it was backed by board members as a meaningful program without a large cost to the district. Other options, such as hiring a specialist to travel between classrooms, would only give students a taste of a new foreign language, he said.
Baratto agreed. "If we're going to do something in foreign language, let's do it right and let's teach them something," he said. "Let's not do a smattering, because to me, that's just a waste of time."