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DJUSD Cuts German & Chinese: An Open Letter From a Concerned Community Member

"Late last night the DJUSD school board sentenced the DHS German and Chinese foreign language programs to death over $15,000 of budget dust."

I received the following email this morning:

Late last night the DJUSD school board sentenced the DHS German and Chinese foreign language programs to death over $15,000 of budget dust. The board initially decided not to make a decision last night, then halfway through public comment the chairwoman cut off the remaining community members in line to speak (people who had waited hours to be able to speak for a mere two minute slot), then the board voted to adopt the staff recommendation after all.

That email, which came from Jennie Bretschneider, also included an open letter to the board, which I’ve posted in full below.

While biking to the Ron Paul rally, I saw a group of teachers and community members marching through downtown with picket signs. I snapped a photo, and then moved on. You can read about it in this Davis Enterprise article: Teachers give school board another earful. Here’s Bretschneider’s letter.

Dear board members:

Please place on the agenda a re-visit of the decision to resolve a .1 FTE ($15,000) gap by alternating German 1 and Chinese 1. These two languages can have sufficient numbers if: 

1) the board makes a long-term commitment to offer four years in both languages. 

2) school counselors stop actively advising students *not* to take German and Chinese because of the risk -- often expressed as a likelihood -- that the language program will go away and students won't be able to complete the full four years.  A board commitment and a policy that counselors should not steer students away from Chinese and German would make a world of difference.  

3) year 1 of each language is always offered last period (or first period), so that 7th, 8th, and 9th graders can fill up these classes at the high school.  9th grade *is* high school, so for all of the students (and there are many) who want four years in a foreign language on their college application, German and Chinese are simply not an option unless offered first or last period.  Our daughter who attends Holmes signed up to take German 1 this year and was placed in Spanish instead because German 1 was only offered 6th period -- not 7th period. 

Alternating years with German 1 and Chinese 1 will put the final nail in the coffin.  If you have no Chinese 1 this year, there will be no kids for Chinese 2 next year, no kids for Chinese 3 the following year, etc.

Doing this tells all counselors, students, and families that you are phasing out these two languages, and even fewer students will sign up for them. 

One of the major considerations parents make when deciding between public and private schools is how strong the foreign language offerings are at a school. Without a strong foreign language program, we will lose more Davis residents to private schools in Sacramento.  That hurts DJUSD financially and lowers academic rankings.

We are a multi-cultural society, as many pointed out tonight.  Other countries embrace multi-culturalism, in large part because kids are required to start taking foreign languages (two or more) from an early age.  We're getting there in the U.S., but if we can't move in the right direction in progressive, wealthy Davis, California, then where are we headed as a country?  Many in the German and Chinese language communities worked hard to help the recent parcel tax pass.  Many who left the meeting tonight felt betrayed that the board is not protecting the programs named in the description of the parcel tax measure. 

The board has the power to set a policy that protects the foreign languages it offers, so that these language programs don't automatically get placed on the chopping block year after year as "electives."  Tonight floral design won over two foreign language programs.

Please look at the bigger picture and revise tonight's decision.  Is DHS staff going to immediately re-distribute all of the kids who signed up fo Chinese 1 into other languages?  If so, please consider asking staff to wait on this action until it can be determined if $15,000 can be taken from another place in the district that won't have such a devastating impact on two foreign language programs. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Jennie Bretschneider 

You can weigh in below. 

Lorraine Visher May 06, 2012 at 12:06 AM
These are hard times and we are faced with hard decisions. Our primary age classrooms are set to filled with 32 children to 1 teacher this fall. This is with no aide and teaching to rigid standards. There is hard evidence that these kinds of ratios are detrimental to learning. Please compare this to keeping a class of 14 to 17 students open to study Chinese and German in anticipation of college entry. If we can't provide a quality education in our own language in the critical early years, how can we even expect our children to learn another language, much less go to college? We cannot keep asking our teachers to bear the brunt of the deficits DJUSD faces. We are already paid less in salary and benefits then almost any other district within a 60 mile radius. We haven't had a raise in 4 years. If you are worried about losing Davis residents to private schools, be more worried that you will lose them because you lose the high caliber teachers that make our schools excellent to begin with. The school board made a hard decision and I applaud them for having the courage to make it.
Justin Cox May 06, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Tough times for public schools, for sure. Will be interesting to watch everything shake out (not only in Davis, but all over the state). I'm sure, as a teacher, it can be exhausting.

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