Rancho Santa Fe School board approves return of K-5 Spanish classes to curriculum

Spanish will return to R. Roger Rowe School’s elementary classrooms.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, June 9, the RSF School District board approved Superintendent Lindy Delaney’s recommendation to add Spanish to the kindergarten through fifth-grade curriculum wheel by replacing ocean science and public speaking, giving students foreign language instruction two times a week for a trimester.

By making the substitution, students would not miss out on those subjects, as ocean science will be incorporated into science lab and public speaking would be placed in the library as a mandatory part of the curriculum.

Parent Linda Leong, an advocate for foreign language in the younger grades, thanked the district for being flexible and listening to parents. Parent James Linlor told the board he was “ecstatic” to hear that the district was bringing back Spanish.

“It’s gratifying to know that action will be taken on this next year,” Linlor said, noting he had enrolled his daughter in private lessons so she wouldn’t be behind.

Moving to three days a week was a preference of 48 percent of parents surveyed, but Delaney and Principal Kim Pinkerton felt instructional time would be affected too much if Spanish were offered three times a week with 90 to 120 minutes a week reduced from reading, writing, math and science.

Pinkerton said she felt strongly that adding Spanish to the exploratory wheel makes it just as important as other subject areas, while not eliminating anything from the students’ education.

The projected cost of the new program is $154,000, and the board approved a stipend for teacher Crystal Foley to develop a comprehensive Spanish program this summer.

The other option Delaney was considering was having parents opt their children out of the enrichment wheel entirely and substitute with Spanish. Delaney said the option was not ideal because students would miss out on art, music, drama, ocean science or technology.

At the June 4 regular board meeting, the board heard about the results of the foreign language survey from Cathy Cirina-Chu, managing director of the social science research laboratory at San Diego State University.

While the parents surveyed felt strongly that Spanish should be included at the elementary school level, opinions varied about how it should be implemented.

The survey was sent to 798 parent email addresses and 29 teachers. The response rate was 26 percent for parents and 78 percent from teachers. Cirina-Chu said as the response rate was not “robust,” the results may or may not be generalizable to all school parents.

“I am surprised by the lack of participation and ambiguity of the results,” trustee Todd Buchner said.

Trustee Tyler Seltzer asked Cirina-Chu why she thought the response rate was so low.

She said she could only speculate.

“My guess is that obviously parents care about their kids and the school, but the low response could mean ‘We’re happy with what the school is doing, we trust the administration and whatever they decide is fine,’” Cirina-Chu said.

The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed (91 percent) felt that providing foreign language in the younger grades is very important or somewhat important, with 72 percent responding that it was very important. Teachers were less likely to say that K-5 foreign language was important, with only 19 percent responding that it was very important.

More than half of the parents felt foreign language should begin in kindergarten, while only 24 percent of teachers felt it should start in kindergarten. Of the teacher respondents, 19 percent thought it should start in first grade, 24 percent felt it should begin in sixth grade and 10 percent said it was not necessary at all.

Seventy-eight percent of parents believed that exposure to foreign language is just as important for students as exposure to art, music, public speaking, science and technology.

The majority of teachers surveyed — 81 percent — did not believe that foreign language was important enough to reduce time used for reading, writing, math or science, although parents were split, with 45 percent believing it was important enough to reduce time on other subjects.

Fifty-six percent of parents believed the foreign language program should provide mastery, while 64 percent felt that they would like their children to be exposed to language, even at an introductory level.

While she said she was disappointed by the low participation numbers, Delaney said the survey was helpful in determining how the district should proceed. She said her problem in the past with Spanish was that she didn’t feel the carry-over or level of mastery was good from year to year, but she thinks they can remedy that with the new Spanish program.