Voices unite to save elementary foreign language programs
The Loudoun County School Board boardroom was scattered with red clothing Feb. 14, not out of love for Valentine’s Day, but instead in protest of the proposed cuts in the fiscal 2013 budget adopted Feb. 7.
A major target of cuts was the Foreign Language in Elementary School program, which was altered to meet only once a week and not beginning instruction in the program until grade 4. The cost-cutting move could save $2.6 million and cost 35 current full-time employees their jobs.
During the Feb. 14 Loudoun County School Board meeting, more than 30 teachers, students and parents came before the board to help save the FLES program for next year, saying it promotes better student performance growth.
“Loudoun County schools, the ones that actually [are] exposed [to the] FLES have shown progressive improvement in listening and comprehension and language fluency,” Chris Maslyn said. “Why cut a program that so obviously benefits our students? I can only think it’s the money and that’s why all you guys here got your jobs - cut the budget, save money.”
During the last school board meeting Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) was against the motion that was brought forward by Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and later passed by a 5-4 vote.
“There is a possibility of 35 people finding out tonight, I’m sure, that their jobs are at risk, based upon a motion in a preliminary portion of the budget,” Bergel said during the Feb. 7 meeting. “Currently, we have our elementary school students enrolled in this program, so what we are saying to our first- and second-graders are ‘you learned this language, but you get a lull until fourth grade from now on.”
According to numerous speakers, the program would only cost $0.58 per student a day and only $100 a year per student .
“What is the goal of education? I think we can all come up with different statements of what we think the goal is for education. But, I think we can also agree that the goal of education is to create an educated person,” Lucille Shoop, a FLES teacher in Loudoun County said. “If you’re not able to speak another language that is necessary in your community you are not going to get a job. If there are two people applying for a job and one speaks the language of the community and the other only speaks the native language of the country, the one that speaks the language of the community is going to get the job. We have a responsibility in Loudoun County Public Schools to prepare our students to not only obtain jobs in our community, but in the world.”
Called a “biased decision” by some speakers, most voiced their sadness over losing the program. More than a dozen speakers said they were disappointed in the board’s decision to cut FLES and many students are going to be negatively impacted.
“This wasn’t a biased decision this wasn’t done without any thought to the benefits of the program. This wasn’t done without any experience to the program. My vote was based on the input from the community,” Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said, noting that class sizes and teacher’s salaries take higher priority.
As Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) struggled to pronounce the list of public speakers, one speaker pointed out that he teaches his students pronunciation, especially of his name.
Many said that cutting school programs, any program, should be a last option in budget cuts.
“I’m very disappointed that the FLES program in our school system would be reduced so much that it is set up for failure. To completely take it away from first, second and third graders and fourth and fifth graders are only to have FLES once a week doesn’t seem to make sense and it’s not enough,” Wanda Beltarn, a parent and resident said. “Our kids are interested in sports that last more than 30 minutes and for more than once a week. These cuts target minority teachers working for the school district. Even though Loudoun County Schools work towards creating a diverse work force, 35 minority teaching positions are to be cut.”
Board members backed up their decision from the last board meeting saying they needed more information on the impact the program had on students, but it came down to numbers in the budget.
“I’m not supportive of keeping of the FLES program as it is now. I needed more information about the program. Ultimately, it’s not just money it comes down to priorities,” Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said. “If you can show certain areas that don’t provide what FLES does we need to be shown that. If you want us to bring FLES back we need to have the reasoning for that.”
Bergel reiterated her concern for what impact the board’s decisions has made.
“I’m very concerned about the message we have sent to the public thus far. I’m embarrassed by some of the decisions. This county ranks as the richest county in the nation, yet we are making decisions that will make us fall behind,” Bergel said. “We need to understand that we have metrics in place to show the gains, those have been in place for a very long time. I’m glad the LCPS employees have voiced their concerns again and again.”
Bill Fox (Leesburg) said that he will be working toward opening immersion programs in certain schools for elementary-aged students.