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posted: 4/4/2014 5:30 AM

Dist. 54 improving buildings, language programs

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Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 board members Thursday approved $3.6 million in summer renovations and heard how the soundness of their language programs will be similarly improved this fall.

The board awarded a contract of $3,552,000 to Northwest Contractors Inc. of Hampshire -- the lowest of five bidders -- to do interior renovations at 21 of the district's 27 schools.

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Administrators on Thursday also reported identified weaknesses within the district's dual-language and language-immersion programs, along with ways to address them.

Associate Superintendent Nick Myers pointed out that these programs at 10 different schools are already held up as models at the state and national levels. But the goal of the coming changes is to follow the best practices of language instruction, he said.

Some of the problems identified included inconsistencies in how the Spanish, Japanese and Chinese programs are provided at each school; high staff turnover at several schools; lack of an assessment process to measure students' proficiency; and a drop-off in the language experience provided at the junior high level.

Revised guidelines are planned to be made uniformly in all language programs throughout the district next school year.

These revisions touch on the exact number of minutes for language instruction in kindergarten through sixth grade; tighter expectations regarding language instruction periods; enhancing the programs at the junior high level; and use of standardized proficiency tests.

Suggested changes to the junior high programs would implement separate 40-minute language arts classes in both English and the target language and an integrated social studies class covering both U.S. history and that of the target language's native country.

The tighter expectations regarding use of language periods would require absolutely all verbal communication as well as classroom signs to be in the target language.

Making a two-teacher system uniform for all dual-language programs will help students focus on the one language being taught by each teacher and improve the district's ability to retain skilled teachers without increasing staffing levels, Myers said.

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