Future students will be able to choose between Spanish and Mandarin Chinese within the Fox Point-Bayside School District, School Board members said April 23.
Current sixth- through eighth-graders will continue with French to complete their proficiency.
But, board members decided that the district should try to implement a Chinese program as soon as possible. If the right teacher can be found, next year's sixth-grade students could begin taking the language as early as the 2007-08 school year.
Board members voted unanimously to replace the district's two language offerings - Spanish and French - with Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
The change was made partly because of the retirement of the district's French teacher. A part-time teacher has been recommended to replace the outgoing instructor until the language is phased out.
But, several board members said, the change also was made in keeping with global language shifts and out of a desire to keep the district competitive.
And, it could make the district a linguistic feeder for Nicolet High School, which also has adopted a Mandarin program.
"It's a whole district shift from Romantic languages to something that has been shown to us as the language of the future," Board Clerk Marcy Keefe said. "It's a forward way to go."
Board members spent much of their nearly three-hour meeting discussing not only which languages to choose, but also whether the languages could be taught with the help of a computer program.
After much debate, board members chose to table discussions regarding the Rosetta Stone World Language program.
With Rosetta Stone, students could learn languages varying from Mandarin to Hebrew to Latin with the help of interactive software.
Rosalynn Kiefer, director of curriculum and instruction for the district, acknowledged the "excitement" around the software, because of its options for individual pacing and multiple language offerings.
But, she said, the software would not replace a teacher.
Rather, Kiefer said, a teacher would be able to guide students through the software. After mastering basic concepts, the teacher could guide immersion-driven exercises, such as speaking in Mandarin Chinese.
Board members agreed that a Mandarin-speaking teacher would be best.
The software could cost about $8,200 in the first two years, plus about $10,400 to create a 21-computer language lab.
Members said it would be best to wait and see if a teacher could be found before buying any language software. The Rosetta Stone issue will be tabled until then, although members agreed the program has promise.
"This does not mean the board isn't in favor of Rosetta Stone," Board President Brenda Levatich said.
"I like the direction," Levatich said. "I think the whole board does. But it's a big change. What if we commit and it doesn't take off?"
Board Treasurer Gail Becker also seemed in no hurry.
"I would love to say, 'Yes, we'll make this change,'" Becker said. "If we can do it next year, we will. If we can't, we won't."
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