Wanted: Spanish teacher for Barre ElementarySeptember 10,2013
By David Delcore
BARRE — Hablas Espanol?
If your answer to that question is “si,” you might consider calling Barre City Elementary and Middle School, because the School Board learned Monday night that the long-term substitute hired to handle their Spanish program doesn’t speak the language.
On a night when they held a “meet-and-greet” for new faculty members it was the teaching position that hasn’t yet been filled that had board members talking about Spanish.
More than two weeks into the new school year the Spanish program remains without an instructor, and board members fear their eighth graders’ ability to opt out of Spanish 1 when they head to Spaulding High School next year is quickly being compromised.
“We’ve got to do something,” School Commissioner Linda Riddle said. “If we’re going to offer this (Spanish) and then we’re going to hold our children accountable for it, and then we’re going to make all this noise about how they’re going to be just as ready (for Spaulding) as (students from) Barre Town, we have to actually have a teacher.”
That is the one thing that a Spanish program that the board flirted with eliminating not all that long ago doesn’t currently have, according to middle school Principal Michelle Cote.
Cote told the board that, while “very capable,” the long-term substitute who has been filling in since the start of the year “doesn’t speak Spanish.”
Instead, Cote said the substitute is currently teaching students how to safely use the Internet and attempting to double down on instruction they’re receiving in their language arts programs.
“Essentially it’s being run as a study hall?” Riddle asked
Cote repeatedly resisted that description, while freely acknowledging there was no separate curriculum, and conceding that time to locate a qualified Spanish teacher was rapidly running out.
“At some point, sooner rather than later, we’re going to have to decide what’s going to happen with this program this year,” Cote said, suggesting a yet-to-be-vetted voice mail from a potential applicant might be the answer.
“I can’t sort of make any candidates when there don’t seem to be any coming,” she said.
Cote’s lament triggered a brief brainstorming session during which board members floated ideas ranging from actively recruiting Spanish-speaking community members to temporarily teach the course to considering the possibility of arranging for online instruction.
Riddle suggested the “distance learning” option as a possible solution, and Superintendent John Bacon said it is offered on a “limited basis” to students at Spaulding High School.
According to Bacon, students are allowed to enroll in online courses that aren’t offered at Spaulding, or they couldn’t otherwise take due to scheduling conflicts.
School Commissioner Leslie Walz said the Barre board’s predicament would arguably satisfy that standard.
“It seems almost like this kind of fits that in the sense that we can’t offer it (Spanish),” Walz said.
“You can’t make someone appear,” she said.
However, Bacon said distance learning wasn’t necessarily a viable solution. It would, he said, require the availability of a computer lab for students and might not be as interactive as would be optimal for students learning a foreign language.
Riddle said she was willing to entertain a range of options assuming school officials aren’t able to quickly locate a Spanish teacher.
“It’s time we start to look outside of the box now because the box isn’t going to work right now,” she said. “We need to borrow people, we need to do distance learning, we need someone who will at least speak it (Spanish) at them (students), we need to do something.”
Walz agreed, suggesting that letting the problem linger was not acceptable.
“I’m just really afraid of the demise of the whole (foreign) language program if we don’t get something moving,” Walz said.
Board members seemed most concerned about restoring Spanish classes for seventh- and eight-graders, a move they said would give the middle-schoolers the opportunity to “test out” of an introductory Spanish course at Spaulding.
Riddle wondered whether private tutoring was an option, providing an avenue for some students to satisfy the Spanish 1 requirements on their own.
“If families are better able to put it together than we are could their kids still take the test?” she asked.
Bacon said he suspected the answer was yes.
Cote said she would confer with Bacon and update the board on the status of the position by the end of the week. However, she warned, even if a suitable Spanish teacher is found quickly, ensuring students are able to make up for class time they have already missed will likely mean forcing them to miss something else later in the year.
Board members said they would wait for the update, but School Commissioner Sonya Spaulding said they should start thinking about “Plan C.”
“At what point do we say we have to pull the plug and do something completely different?” she asked, suggesting the current arrangement feels like a study hall to her son.
“The perception from my student is it’s study hall,” she said.
In other business Monday night, the board approved an unbudgeted increase of $5,640 to compensate a receptionist’s position that will be assigned additional duties. Pay for the position will increase from $11- to $14.50-an-hour. Money, board members were told, would come from anticipating savings in an administrative line item.
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