District 91 plans to implement curriculum changes to the Spanish language program at Forest Park Middle School beginning with the 2015-16 academic year. The recently approved modifications were originally announced at the State of the District address this past April.
At that meeting, Louis Cavallo, District 91 superintendent, said, “Foreign language was an optional program for a select few students. That is no longer the case. Any student who wants to take foreign language will be able to. We will be offering Spanish to all students at the middle school level.”
More recently, Joseph Pisano, who will take over as Forest Park Middle School principal this summer, sent an email to parents and guardians of D91 students explaining the curriculum alterations.
“In an effort to expose all Forest Park Middle School students to a foreign language,” he wrote, “we will no longer offer Spanish to students as a continuous three-year program but instead will be making Spanish class part of our exploratory curriculum.” According to the email, the sixth- and seventh-grade classes will be “introductory” courses with “interested” students able to enroll in an “advanced” class during eighth grade. The exploratory curriculum includes robotics, animation, art, music and now Spanish classes. Students take one exploratory subject per trimester with advanced-level classes available for eighth-grade students.
In the current curriculum, only selected students are able to participate in foreign language training. Pisano explained the selection process, saying, “Our current Spanish teacher looks at the fifth-grade MAP testing scores in reading and also gets fifth-grade teacher recommendations.” If invited, students participate in daily, advanced Spanish language training during a dedicated academic period. Twenty-two percent of middle school students participate in the Spanish program. The remaining children attend a class called “Panther Prep,” which, according to Pisano, emphasize different academic skills each day like sustained silent reading.
The reorganization is intended to increase the 22% figure.
“The idea is that we want to have 100% of our students be at least exposed to a foreign language,” Pisano noted, “the Spanish language program, in hopes that they will be inspired to pursue it in high school.”
However, many parents, including Monique Hoskins, oppose the changes. Hoskins, a District 97 Spanish teacher in neighboring Oak Park, has two kids in D91, including one seventh-grader. Hoskins believes students who have benefited from advanced-level training should be able to continue to learn.
Hoskins told the Review, “We do feel there has got to be a way to provide an exploratory concurrently with the learning that is going on because we don’t want our students to lose all the knowledge they have gained. Language is cumulative. … It must be practiced consistently in order to not lose the ability. We really want our children to continue to excel.” Her opinion “is shared by students and numerous parents, as evidenced by the packed school board meeting. … There was hardly a place to sit down,” she said.
The current program, which Hoskins describes as “stellar,” has prepared many students for honors-level language classes in high school. During her remarks to the Review, she maintained her support for the “phenomenal” Forest Park school system. “I have nothing but praise for what has been accomplished so far. However, she remains opposed to the change.
Despite the results of the existing curriculum, Mary Win Connor, president of the D91 school board, told the Review, the board instructed Dr. Cavallo to “find a way to expand the foreign language [program] to include all students in order for everyone to benefit from foreign language study. Scheduling issues associated with other courses created a situation where it was not possible for the honors program to continue without excluding the rest of the students.”
Possible remedies, including hiring an additional teacher in order to offer exploratory and advanced Spanish classes concurrently, will not be employed. “It is not possible to offer both the three years of advanced and the exploratory at the same time, even with the hire of another teacher” said Connor.
The curriculum changes will not be phased in. Instead, the remodeled language program will debut next academic year. Hoskins voiced her concern for the current students enrolled in the program. “They have already invested two years into this program,” she said. “For our district to not allow them to continue to excel … [that] is not what is in the best interest of our children.”
When asked about the quickness of the curriculum modifications, Connor said, “Curriculum decisions are made in the late spring in order to give teachers and administrators time to make the necessary adjustments before the beginning of the school year. A delay at this point is not likely to change the decision and would probably make for a more difficult transition down the line.”
Another parent, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Review, the agenda for the May 14 school board meeting did not include the Spanish curriculum changes. Hoskins concurred, saying, “We were told nothing was to be decided at the [May 14] school board meeting.”
Connor replied, “That is true. It was not an item for action by the board but the superintendent did give a report following the comments by parents. Later on in the agenda when the superintendent gave the rest of his report, the board asked him follow-up questions regarding the changes based on the questions and comments by the parents. The discussion was lengthy and covered much of what the parents had concerns about.”
Parents are not the only ones providing input. The board also received a student petition with dozens of signatures in opposition to the changes. The petition included signatures from both students enrolled in Spanish and those in Panther Prep. Connor said the board appreciates student input, but it “must take into account what is best for all students.”