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posted: 5/18/2012 10:24 AM

Spanish Exploratory program dropped in Hawthorn District 73

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An exploratory Spanish program in Hawthorn Elementary District 73 will be shelved for next year but could be retooled.

School board members this week voted not to continue the Spanish Exploratory program, opting instead to have teachers spend more time working with students on core standards.

The class was installed at Townline Elementary School when it opened in 2005 and for the past two years has been available to kindergarten through fifth graders at all schools. It is offered once a week for 40 minutes to provide exposure to Spanish.

Board President Tim Shanahan said the program was not effective and the district will study how it might be improved and possibly reinstated. That could also involve public input.

"We may have to revisit it to see if this is what the community wants," Shanahan said. "We want to get a more cohesive plan going forward."

The board initially wanted to keep the program but reversed the stance because a suitable plan for improvement was not in place, he added. Suspending Spanish Exploratory will give the district a year to develop something more appropriate, according to district officials.

Remaining language options include the School of Dual Language for kindergarten through fifth graders. Sixth through eighth graders coming out of that program can take the Spanish and Cultures class. Seventh and eighth graders also can choose to take Spanish but space is limited.

The exploratory program had been taught by instructional assistants, but 31 of 102 were released in March as a cost-saving measure. Certified teachers would have been responsible for the program going forward at a cost some pegged at $250,000.

During a discussion Monday, board member Jayson Tran said not having the program didn't mean the district would save that amount because other expenses, such as supervision at lunch and recess and replacing a Spanish teacher, would have to be covered. The true cost to continue Spanish Exploratory would be about $70,000, he said.

Superintendent Sue Zook told the board that while the community values language instruction, the priority in a tight economic environment was for classroom teachers to work with students on Common Core standards adopted by Illinois to prepare students for college and careers.

How the extra 40 minutes will be used would vary by grade level. Helping students is a "greater and more effective use of time and money," than providing the Spanish Exploratory program to all students at this time, Zook said.

Whatever becomes of Spanish Exploratory will have to considered in a larger context as the goals and priorities in the district's strategic plan are reviewed. The district also will face other challenges, such as limited space, she added.

"You're going to have to look at a big picture," Zook told the board.

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