After news spread that plans to shutter its German language program, several residents spoke out against the move at a recent School Committee meeting.
While their objections and ideas included things like marketing the program more effectively and pursuing grant funding, School Committee members and administrators said curriculum decisions are made at the school level, and this one had nothing to do with budgetary concerns.
Addressing the public on Tuesday night and again in a follow-up interview on Wednesday, Carol Pilarski, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and professional development, said waning interest in German, coupled with programs like Italian, Mandarin and French trending in the opposite direction, informed the decision. The German numbers -- in the dozens, compared to hundreds for other language programs -- have been under the microscope and trending downward since 2005, she said.
“This was not a precipitous decision,” said Pilarski, a former foreign language teacher. “And it is not any one person’s decision.”
According to Pilarski, the decision to cut the German language program was made by herself, in conjunction with the department head, principal, superintendent and German teacher, Heidemarie Floerke, who reportedly will remain with the district finishing out the German curriculum for current students and teaching English as a Second Language.
The program will not disappear overnight, but rather it will phase out one year at a time. All current students will be able to complete their curriculum, according to Pilarski.
As news of the German program’s fate spread around town, opposition to the move began to gather online and several individuals spoke out before the School Committee on Tuesday, June 12.
As the issue was not an agenda item, School Committee Chair Margaret Coppe explained her board would be limited in how it responded to public feedback. Individual School Committee members, however, did express sadness over the news and asked questions about how these decisions are made.
A few speakers were parents of past German students, who explained how their children’s experience experiences learning paid dividends in the long run.
“What’s striking to me was that no effort was made to increase enrollment in the German program,” said Masha Trabor, a Maple Street resident. “And I think we let this go there should be a stay of execution.”
Trabor suggested better promotion at the middle school level would translate to more high school students interested in taking German. She and other parents alleged there have been instances of implied or direct discouragement of students considering taking up German, because the program has been “on the chopping block” for some time now.
One parent, Robert Green, a resident of Fair Oaks Drive, presented a book as evidence of the program’s value. It was “Harry Potter.”
According to Green, his daughter asked for a Harry Potter book in German for her 17th birthday and intended to committing to reading it in a foreign language in her free time over the summer. “This is what educational achievement looks like,” he said, holding the book in his hand.
Resident Dawn McKenna spoke pointedly about the lack of an opportunity for public feedback before this curriculum decision was made, and called upon the School Committee to stop the "dismantling of what was a state-of-the-art foreign languages program dating back to the 1960s.”
Members of the School Committee thanked residents for their comments and seemed to sympathize with their collective frustration over not knowing where to voice their concerns about this programmatic change.
"It is important that the community knows where to go when curriculum decisions are made," said School Committee member Jessie Steigerwald. “It can’t be that there’s nowhere to go.”
According to Pilarski, the appropriate avenue for residents is to go through the School Committee, which can then elevate questions or concerns to the administration.