Friday, July 25, 2014

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

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 or (530) 747-8055.


Discussion | 18 comments

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  • World languagesMay 04, 2012 - 6:05 pm

    Although there are lots of Chinese speakers in the world, it is puzzling why DHS offers Chinese as a world language option. Virtually all of the students who take it are native speakers; Chinese is an almost impossible language if you are not a native speaker. For probably 95% of the kids who go to DHS, they would never be able to reasonably master Chinese, or probably have an interest in taking it. German is the most widely spoken language in Europe. Germany has the largest GDP in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. German truly is a world language which anyone, esp. English speakers since English is a germanic language, can learn and master. The reason German is underenrolled is because they are not allowed to advertise that German is offered to junior high students at the high school. There is no mention of it on the junior high websites. This year the first year German class was moved to the middle of the day at DHS, so no junior high student could even take it (unlike for Chinese). Woodland High offers German, as do most good public high schools.

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  • Support world languagesMay 08, 2012 - 1:29 pm

    You make some excellent points. Based on personal experience, I agree that there is a lot of crossover benefits to learning German as an English speaker. Since English grammar wasn't really systematically taught when I was in school, it actually wasn't until I was taking German that the light bulb went off for me and I realized why certain things were the way they were in English! As you pointed out, German is a very important world language. I hope the district reconsiders and understands the value and importance of keeping our foreign language programs strong at the High School—and making a concerted effort to support them instead of undermine them.

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  • Low-enrolled classesMay 06, 2012 - 3:15 pm

    There are probably a number of lower-enrolled classes at DHS that are not on the chopping blocks: How many kids really take AP BC Physics or AP BC Calculus? 10, 20? Not 30 or more like some of these languages. How many take AP Music Theory?

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  • Greg KuperbergMay 06, 2012 - 3:22 pm

    My children have taken AP Physics, and BC Calculus, and AP Music Theory, and they were all high-enrollment classes. As well as high-quality, high-achievement classes that are good for the high school. Pinning the blame on those classes is wrong and unfair. But, as a matter of transparency, it would be nice to see a table of course enrollments. There is no reason to hide that type of information.

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  • Support world languagesMay 08, 2012 - 1:20 pm

    I sincerely hope that the district continues to support foreign languages at the High School level. It is strange that they targeted German 1, when with 28 students requesting it for next year, is had the most numbers out of any of the low-enrolled classes on the PowerPoint file for the school board meeting. I wonder if they would ever consider offering German at one of the Junior Highs instead of French, and continue to offer French at the High School? Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset that will carry over to any occupation a student might choose. Counselors have consistently warned students away from taking German at the Junior High level, and by offering German 1 in the middle of the day last year, they made it impossible for any students from the Junior Highs to take it. Instead of undermining these languages, there's a lot that could be done to encourage and support them.

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  • Special Interests Rule the GameMay 08, 2012 - 1:28 pm

    From what I know, many of the music classes are currently UNDER-ENROLLED. But the reality of Davis is that parent groups too often drive the bus. Do you really think that the Board would recommend cutting a music class? That would be like cutting off their left foot. You don't bite the hand that feeds you, and Music parents in Davis are way connected to board members and booster groups. Here's the reality: tough times call for tough decisions. There just ain't enough money right now to pay for all the perks people think schools are supposed to provide. Wake up Davis, school needs to provide education in the three R's. Everything else is extra. And while it's nice to be able to take German or Chinese, or Music Theory or choir, if there isn't enough money to afford it, then you can't have it. Jam-packing elementary school classes to 30plus and high school English classes to 36-40 all to keep less than 20 kids in a music class???? Not right at all.

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  • Sherri SandbergMay 08, 2012 - 3:02 pm

    I can only speak for the Orchestra program but these music classes have high enrollment. The DHS Symphony has about 80 students and only 1 instructor. The Baroque orchestra has 32 and the Chamber has about 45-50. At the Jr. Highs the numbers are high as well. The only exception may be the 7th graders at Emerson with about 28 which then feeds into an advanced class (1 period) of about 40. You do need the Intermediate (7th graders) to feed the rest of the program. So the majority of the program has well over the target class size of 32. I believe the Band Programs and Choral programs are all the same. I also believe they add great value to a child's development.

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  • Observer from the SidelinesMay 08, 2012 - 5:56 pm

    I would argue that many of the classes being considered/recommened/approved for cancellation "add great value to a child's development". Your argument suggest that music classes are the most important. An aspiring journalist/photographer might find "great value" from the Yearbook class that is being cut. A student with an interest in languages might find "great value" in German 1 or Chinese 1. The basic point is: different students have different needs and find value in different areas. Cutting anything is difficult.

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  • Sherri SandbergMay 09, 2012 - 2:50 pm

    I agree that language classes have great value as well. My argument was that the Orchestra classes were not under enrolled. I see the Music Theory AP class has only 18 students. That to me is under enrolled and perhaps should be cut.

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  • qwertyMay 08, 2012 - 2:36 pm

    --Wake up Davis, school needs to provide education in the three R’s. Everything else is extra. If that's the case, then I would suggest families move to Dixon, Winters, West Sac. or Woodland. Homes are cheaper there, and that's about all their schools offer.

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  • keep GermanMay 08, 2012 - 5:22 pm

    the music theory AP class only has 18 students signed up for next year. Why not cut that and not German?

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  • Observer from the SidelinesMay 08, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    It's simply: German doesn't have a parent boosters club like the Music Department does (Band Boosters, Orchestra Boosters, Choral program boosters). She who yells the loudest gets her way. I dare any of the Board members to even suggest cutting a music class. Our board members are wanna-be politicans who are beholden to the special interests of the music people. Music is the sacred cow in this district. It will never be touched.

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  • wdf1May 08, 2012 - 6:50 pm

    "Music is the sacred cow in this district. It will never be touched." If you followed the discussion of low-enrolled courses in last Thursday's school board meeting, then you would have heard that three sections of music were cut/consolidated.

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  • Observer from the SidelinesMay 08, 2012 - 6:56 pm

    The music classes are still being offered - although there are some combinations taking place, nothing was cut. So given that three music courses have enrollment of less than/around 20, those are three classes that could have saved around $40-45k if they were not run. But they are being preserved, even if they are in a combined state. Music classes will never be cut in this district.

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  • band parentMay 08, 2012 - 7:27 pm

    As proposed, two HS music classes will be taught by one teacher in one section. Holmes lost a concert band (went from 3 concert bands to 2) and Harper also lost a concert band (went from 3 to 2). The way I understand it from the board conversation, three class' worth of music will not be paid for next year that was paid for this year.

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  • Why ChineseMay 08, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    One thing is that Susan Lovenberg wants Chinese to stay and German to go. If you watch the meeting, she cuts off a number of Germn and other supporters while she lows someone for Chinese to ramble on over the time limit. it is really unfair how he manipulates hings for her own agenda. She should be voted out office the next term.

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  • Greg BruckerMay 08, 2012 - 8:08 pm

    I am a music teacher at Harper and Emerson Jr. High. I direct the Orchestra program at both sites. I would like to address a few of the comments stated above. There are at least 3 sections of music classes being cut. That has been broadcast for many months. Further, there may be a larger cut based on a full time teacher who is retiring (and other potential changes) and there not being any move toward a new hire in music at this point (meaning that we would have 5 sections – one full time teacher) of cuts out of 10 total full time teachers. Also, there may be a couple lower enrolled classes in music, but there are many classes with between 36 and 63 students at the junior highs (choirs, bands, and orchestras), and several music classes with 50-80 at DHS. To pit program up against program is only a true disservice to everyone and insulting to the students that love the programs we offer in our schools. Everyone has their opinion about what they see as a priority. No one is wrong about what they think should be a priority. My opinion is that it all is a priority and should all stay as a priority, so we can keep the great educational opportunities that we are so lucky to still have here in Davis. Most recently, this value of ours was stated loudly and proudly by this community through the passage of Measure C, which funds $6.5 million worth of varied programs at all levels-core, elective, and educational support. The Davis community stated with 72.3% YES vote, that they wanted the affected programs continued and funded to at least some level. Again, to now create division though pitting program up against program in a time when we need even more so to stick together to get through these tough times is not the way to solve anything. Let’s also remember to keep in mind some larger picture issues. The source of a large portion of the cuts this district has had to endure over the last years came from cuts made by the state. And next year, we face two major hurdles regarding school district funding, locally and statewide: 1) STATEWIDE: If the governor’s tax doesn’t pass in November, there will be a $350 per student cut in funding to all districts from the state. Here in Davis, with over 8000 students, that would translate in to a cut amounting to over $2.8 million of potential cuts. We have the ability to prevent this by voting to support the governor’s education tax. A yes vote on this tax proposal is mandatory. 2) LOCALLY: Measure A funding sunsets after the 12-13 school year, which currently provides about $2.5 million of funding. That measure was passed over a year ago as an emergency measure to counter cuts from the state. Either of these cuts could again produce a lousy situation for everyone and must be considered in how we move forward. I ask everyone to keep our collective focus on the larger picture of making sure that the state continues to fund education at the already way too low level that it does. This really is a big deal, and the last thing anyone wants is a creation of division going into a time when we all will need to stand together to support education on a statewide level like we did so loudly and proudly 2 months ago locally with Measure C. I am incredibly grateful to the community for their amazing support of education and know that with so much passion about so many aspects of the education system, we will be able to continue to provide the rich offerings we currently offer. Greg Brucker Teacher, Harper and Emerson Jr. High

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  • Greg BruckerMay 09, 2012 - 6:31 am

    To update a few numbers...the djusd website states that Measure A accounts for $3.3 million of income and that the non-passage of the governor's tax proposal will create a loss of $455 per student ($3.5 million dollars based on 8000 students)

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