Montclair’s children receive a great deal of instruction in world languages in the classroom.
But the school district feels that much more can be done.
The Montclair School District wants to take a closer look at its world language offerings in the classroom over the next three years.
In February, the board held a presentation to discuss the district’s current language offerings and the level of instruction that students are currently receiving, and to introduce a plan to ensure that students receive more consistent language instruction starting in the next school year.
Jessica Lasusa, a world languages teacher in the West Morris Regional School District, worked with the district to help assemble the three-year plan and to identify several key areas to concentrate on. Lasusa told the Montclair Local via email this week that since the presentation, the work has been handed over to Montclair’s district curriculum director and staff.
The presentation suggests that students need a total of 540 hours of language instruction during the elementary and middle school years in order to achieve “novice-high” proficiency on a particular language, based on recommendations from the state Department of Education.
However, the district has noted that a student’s language instruction depends greatly on which of the schools they attend. For example, a child who attends elementary school at Nishuane and Hillside and then goes to Glenfield Middle School will receive a total of 737 hours of language instruction. By contrast, a child who attends Edgemont Elementary School and Renaissance Middle School will receive about 494 hours of language instruction.
One of the main points of the world language plan is to encourage families to help their child choose a language to study when they start elementary school, and then continue studying that language through eighth grade. To make that possible, the three middle schools will be asked to offer all three of the district’s critical languages: Spanish, French and Mandarin.
Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, the focus will be on professional development for language teachers and aides, and setting benchmarks to be reached in the eighth grade and the senior year of high school. These efforts will continue in the next school year, 2018-2019; in the plan submitted by Lasusa, there is also a recommendation to restructure the language offerings at Montclair High School that year.
The presentation given to the board last month noted that languages such as Latin, German and Italian saw relatively low enrollment compared to Spanish, French and Mandarin; in Latin, for example, there were seven class sections with an average of 16 students each. “Based on current enrollments in Latin, Italian and German...I recommend decreasing the number of sections in these languages at least or eliminating Latin and/or Italian entirely,” Lasusa’s recommendations to the board said.
Another suggestion was to introduce additional critical languages, such as Arabic, Hindi or Urdu, over the next few years as resources permit.
The 2017-2018 budget includes the hiring of a world language specialist for a 10-month period for $125,000. The district has also set aside $50,000 for professional development for teachers and staff, and the K-8 languages curriculum will be coming up for a review next year as part of the district’s curriculum review cycle.
The world languages plan and presentation are available for view on the district website.