The fate of the middle school German program could hinge on the outcome of a May 9 meeting of the Carlisle Area School Board education committee.
Board members last week tabled a proposal to cut German language instruction in the eighth grade next school year at the Lamberton and Wilson buildings.
Cutting German from the middle schools will not result in a cost savings, Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said on Wednesday. Instead, the current instructor will be retained but have his workload shifted to a language that carries a greater demand among students.
Because Robert Lyon is dual certified in Spanish and German, he teaches both languages at the two schools. “He currently teaches three sections of Spanish and two sections of German,” Spielbauer said. Her recommendation is to have Lyon teach only Spanish next school year.
Student interest and enrollment in classes are factors that administrators consider when weighing the viability of any academic program, she said. “Over more than 15-plus years, our German numbers have vacillated greatly to the point where we had to eliminate positions and then add a little bit back.” There has been a lack of consistency.
“We had no German program at the middle school last year [2017-18],” Spielbauer said. A resignation in the language department prompted a German teacher in the middle school to request a transfer to the high school program. That left a vacancy in the middle school program, which the district could not fill for 2017-18 despite a four-month search for qualified teachers certified in German language instruction.
Throughout Pennsylvania, the number of college students graduating with a teaching certificate in German has been below five each year, Spielbauer said. There are almost 500 school districts in the state though not all of them offer German.
When asked whether cutting middle school German is a sign that Carlisle may phase out the language in high school, Spielbauer said, “It’s a possibility, but not a foregone conclusion.”
She said German is being looked at primarily because of its history of enrollment trends. “The majority of our students are interested in Spanish and then French. Our Spanish classes fill up and then by default, if a student wants to take a language, they are placed in either German or French. We do the best we can with first choices. Spanish has a very high volume.”
Carlisle Area School Board typically schedules committee meetings on the first and second Thursdays of each month to start at 7 p.m. in the large group instruction room of the Fowler building of Carlisle High School.
There are no plans to schedule committee meetings on May 2, Spielbauer said. Instead, all the committee meetings for next month are scheduled for May 9, one week prior to the May 16 meeting when the board is expected to vote on a preliminary budget for 2019-20.
In what could be a busy night, Spielbauer may also brief the budget and finance committee on a recommendation to eliminate six full-time equivalent teaching positions next year. This could save the district $450,000 in personnel costs and help reduce a projected $3.7 million budgetary shortfall.
During an interview Wednesday, Spielbauer declined to specify what six positions could be eliminated. She said the district may be able to cut five of the positions through attrition by not hiring replacements for teachers who either resign or retire. One of the six positions could involve a furlough.
Rather than act on her recommendation, the school board on April 18 voted 8-0 to table the resolution to cut German language instruction from the middle schools next year. The consensus was to have the resolution appear before the education committee as an agenda item.
Word of the resolution prompted local residents to speak out in favor of maintaining the program at the middle schools.
“This is a short-sighted move that hurts our students,” said Alex Bates, an associate professor of Japanese language and literature at Dickinson College. “It limits their choices and makes them less competitive in an increasingly globalized world.”
“We should not be taking languages away,” his wife Amy Bates said. “We should be adding to them. I can only suppose you are getting rid of it in the middle school level as some pathway of getting rid of it later on.”
Amy Bates presented the school board with a petition of 42 signatures compiled by her daughter from students concerned about limiting language choices.
Cutting German from the middle schools would be unfair to those students who took German Club in elementary school, said Tori Smarr, a local parent. “My daughter was one of them, and she couldn’t wait to take German. Now she might not get her chance.”
The middle school German program has rebounded since Lyon started teaching it with 22 students enrolled at Wilson and 31 students enrolled at Lamberton, Smarr said. “For not having a program in place last year, that’s a pretty good number.”
She said loss of the middle school program would run contrary to the district’s focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education, or STEM. “If you are looking to create STEM leaders, you need to be able to teach a language they can communicate in,” Smarr said. “According to Boston University, German is the second most common language used in scientific journals.”
Smarr cited other reasons to offer the language. She said Germany is the largest economy in Europe and is ranked fourth worldwide. “That is comparable to all the world’s Spanish speaking economies combined,” she said. “German is the most common language used in Europe and is the official language of six European countries. With all this in mind, it is important we keep the option of German open.”