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CORRECTION: A Future Uncertain for German at LHS

Despite a lengthy discussion concerning the removal of German from LHS, the program is still at risk of being phased out of the curriculum.

CORRECTION: A Future Uncertain for German at LHS

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to a reporting error, Patch previously reported that the German Language Program was still scheduled to be phased out over the next four years, beginning with the elimination of German I for the 2012-2013 school year.

School Committee member Bonnie Brodner provided the following correction in the comment section below this story:

Unfortunately this article has some of the facts inaccurate. While the School Committee did not reverse the administration's decision to not offer German 1 in the fall we did unanimously vote to include German 1 in the program of Study for both the '13-'14 and '14-'15 school years.  We are hopeful that by partnering together with the community we can encourage more students to take German in the future, and thereby strengthen the program for the long term.  We also heard from the administration that if it is decided to offer German 1 in the future, short of an unforeseen catastrophe students will be able to continue with German for the remainder of their LHS career.

Bonnie Brodner,  School Committee Member

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An over-crowded meeting room was filled with concerned students, family members and teachers who turned out for the School Committee's July 17 meeting to discuss plans to phase out German language program at Lexington over the next four years.

This decision was first brought this spring, when LHS administrators contacted the School Committee and informed them of their desire to remove the program due to declining enrollment.

According to the plan, the German program was to be phased out, beginning with the elimination of German I in the coming year and continuing with the removal of another level each year. Under that plan, all students currently enrolled in German would able to complete their education, should they choose to do so.

Residents first , and have formed an ad hoc citizens group in support of the continuing the German program.

That group offered an open letter and debate to the School Committe and public at Tuesday's meeting, charging that the rationale used to justify the termination of the program is flawed. "The demonstrable benefits of the program and its steady enrollment over many years argue in favor of re-instating" German, the letter states.

The group had several main gripes with the decision, including:

  • That it wasn't presented to the community for public hearing
  • The School Committee had no prior knowledge of the plan
  • The timing of the desicion gives no room for review
  • Administrators did not give any indication that this action may be taken
  • Alternatives to termination may not have been considered.

In summation, the group offered said, "We prize the academic diversity and excellence afforded to our students. ... The arguments furnished by school administrators to justify dismantling a decades-old German program are wholly inadequate."

Adminstration's Response

The School Committee invited Assistant Superintendent Carol Pilarski to explain the decision to phase out German from LHS.

"This decision was in no way capricious," Pilarski said, echoing her comments in . "Every year we look at our enrollment numbers and overall enrollment in German is quite low; next year there would be only 43 students."

That number is LHS lowest foreign language enrollment and has been steadily declining since 2005. For comparision, ASL has 84 enrollees, Latin 127, Mandarin 161, Italian 163, French 424 and Spanish 813.

"The rationale to eliminate the program was, after spring sign-ups, we decided, because of the low numbers, to phase it out," said Pilarski. "We gave it one more year after discussing this last year, but found it no longer reasonable or practical to offer sign-ups this year with declining data to back up this claim."

Public Speaks

Many from the LHS community, including teachers, students and parents came out to give their input on this issue.

Francis Wentworth, spokeswoman for the ad hoc group, gave a speech detailing the groups problems with the decision.

"Bottom line, up front, we highly recommend continuation of this program this year," said Wentworth. "The process was wrong. From the public point of view there was no public awareness for us to get invovled.

"There should have been just a one-year hiatus for German I," she continued, "We want to explore options to increase numbers for German but need help from the school and don't want rumors spread about the program's impending doom."

Other speakers added that re-instating the program should still be up for debate due to the diversity the program offers LHS. However, "reinstating the program at this time is not practical," Pilarski said.

School Committee Thoughts

School Committee members offered many thoughts on the issue and, according  to School Committee member Bonnie Brodner, "unanimously vote[d] to include German 1 in the program of Study for both the '13-'14 and '14-'15 school years."

First to speak at Tuesday's meeting was School Committee member Jessie Stiegerwald.

"This conversation is a curriculum review for foreign language, which we haven't had yet," she said. "I'm deeply concerned that this hasn't been brought up in a budget meeting. ... I think it's a reasonable request to re-instate the program."

Unfortunately for the ad hoc group, although many agreed with Stiegerwald and the group's laments to keep German at LHS, the other School Committee members offered no want in trying to re-instate the program.

"I don't think re-instating this program is a small thing," said School Committee member Mary Ann Stewart. "This is very complicated for many reasons ... if it doesn't get the numbers it needs to run, we have to be pragmatic about it."

School Committee member Bonnie Brodner questioned whether it was the board's job to move for reinstatment of a program. 

"It would take a lot of overhaul to what the administration sees as important," she said. "I'm not sure we want to set a precedent that we can usurp their policies. ... The process may have been flawed, but lets take this year to figure it out, there are a lot of discussions that need to happen, but I'm not convinced their is enough to override the administration's decision on this."

So, as of now, German I will remain off the LHS schedule for the 2012-13 school year with plans to further eliminate German II, III and IV in the following academic years.

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