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Principals express some cautions

Six parents supported by about 30 people have publicly urged the School Committee to consider establishing a one-year pilot program for foreign-language immersion classes for elementary students next September.

All six touted the benefits of giving children an early start on a foreign language. Melissa Tintocalis said such learning, which she called "a vision of the future," helps trains young students to juggle information effectively.

Later in the Thursday, Dec. 6, meeting, after principals made a presentation about the fiscal 2014 school budget, the elementary school leaders indicated support for foreign languages. One urged parents backing this effort to take the long view. Two noted that more immediate help for English language learners is needed.

Parents made their pitch during public participation. By policy, the committee does not respond directly to comments made then.

Amy Gear reported that two surveys of parents both showed 95 percent support for such a program. She said that issues involved, including equity and cost, could be overcome.

Tintocalis and Gear both apologized for presenting the parents' petition via change.org. The online activist site known for attracting spam was the subject of some complaints last week on the Arlington email list. Gear emphasized that parents were seeking a collaborative approach.

Parent Erin Goodman asked for a show of hands among those in the School Committee Room, and about 30 responded.

David von Schack, a Bishop parent whose children also speak German, noted how such a program aids English learning.

Scott Lever moved to Arlington three years ago. He grew up in town and attended the Junior High East, where he took French but didn't use the opportunity to his best advantage.

The last parent to speak, Monika Musial-Souk, who has two children, one of them at Hardy, has a home in which Spanish is spoken.

Following budget presentations from principals at Ottoson and Arlington High as well as those representing the seven elementary schools, Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the committee chairwoman, asked principals for their reactions to the parents' proposal.

Sheri Donovan, Thompson School principal, said: "We do not support the ELL program the way we should." Her school has a large number of students for whom English is not a first language.

Michael Hanna, the Stratton principal, had more to say. He made clear he backed the enthusiasm of parents seeking the pilot, but he drew on personal experience.

"I was involved in an effort like this" in a previous position, he said, adding that it did not work out, because it had been "rushed" and there had not been enough details worked out.

He said he would emphasize a program that involved "all children."

Stephanie Zerchykov, Brackett's principal, said she supports Donovan's comment. She called the equity issue "pretty important." She also asked: "Where's the time [in the school day] going to come from?"

Allison-Ampe said the committee had to be aware of its budget.

The group of parents, educators and community members seek a program that offers language immersion; a traditional model, known as foreign language at the elementary schools; and after-school options, beginning with a pilot immersion program at the kindergarten level next September.

Last Sept. 3, the School Committee made a formal request to Superintendent Kathleen Bodie that a task force explore the feasibility with a report and recommendation due this December. To date, three formal task force meetings have been held. Parents have organized house meetings, coffee meet-ups and two communitywide meetings.


This story was published Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012.