School board cuts back German 1, Chinese 1 courses to alternating years

By From page A1 | May 08, 2012

After a long and sometimes emotional discussion, the Davis school board voted Thursday night to convert Davis High School’s long-standing debate and yearbook classes into after-school clubs rather than regular classes.

Trustees also put German 1 and Chinese 1 into an alternating-year rotation, rather than offering both introductory language classes routinely every year. German 1 will be offered in the coming academic year, and Chinese 1 will be offered in 2013-14.

The board also voted to trim classes in driver’s education and math ideas.

The votes stemmed from a discussion about Davis High School courses with low enrollments, and the impetus to prune them from the master schedule was financial.

“We need to reduce one FTE (the equivalent of one full-time teaching position)” to keep the high school within its budget for the coming school year, Superintendent Winfred Roberson explained.

Several students and parents urged the school board not to make the cuts. Emma Kneusen, a member of the DHS debate team, described how the class helps students learn to “speak clearly and coherently — valued skills in the business world.”

Phil Glazer said the class provides “everyday practice,” and worried that such daily opportunities would not occur if the debate team meets after school as a club.

Stephanie Galasso, a 2008 graduate, told the board that she studied both German and Chinese, “and they are both beautiful and important languages.” She said she doesn’t like the idea of having them offered only every other year.

Katherine Unger described how her German studies in the 1980s led her to visit Germany, including a visit to what was then East Germany, on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

“My son has been waiting until he was old enough to take German, and there aren’t any other opportunities in the community (other than Davis High),” Unger said.

Several speakers spoke highly of their participation in the long-standing exchange program between Davis High and a high school in the German town of Wadern. The German American Partnership Program has been sending students back and forth between the two schools for nearly 30 years.

Ning Wan of the NewStar Chinese School, parent Rui Chen and others spoke of the value of teaching Mandarin Chinese, which is one of the world’s most widely used languages.

But Ingrid Salim, a science teacher at Davis High, warned that by retaining low-enrolled classes, there is a tradeoff in the form of packing even more students into other already crowded courses that are offered during the same time slot.

Trustee Sheila Allen noted that the high school is running some English classes with 40 students.

“I support world languages, but it is difficult with five languages, each offered at multiple levels, to get enough people selecting them” to sustain a class of 30 to 35 students, Allen said.

Added board president Susan Lovenburg, “I’m not sure we can support five languages (at Davis High), even in good times. And these are not good times.”

Trustee Richard Harris noted that low enrollment in some languages also impacts the class size of Spanish, the language most commonly studied by DHS students. Some Spanish sections have 37 students.

Trustee Tim Taylor worried that by offering German 1 and Chinese 1 in alternating years, a number of students will opt for Spanish, French or Japanese, rather than wait for German or Chinese.

“We might be setting (German and Chinese) up to fail. … It could send one of those languages into a death spiral” in terms of viability as a course at Davis High, Taylor worried.

He also was unhappy to learn that cutting back the German 1 and Chinese 1 courses to every other year would save only $15,000 — a small amount in a district budget that runs into the tens of millions of dollars.

But Taylor couldn’t convince the other four trustees to vote with him. He cast the sole “no” vote on a motion by Harris to adopt the staff recommendation.

Roberson said these courses could be brought back at some point in the future if the school district’s budgetary picture improves and there is sufficient student interest.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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