Everett eighth-graders will have Spanish as an elective

EVERETT — All eighth-graders in the Everett School District will have the option of Spanish as an elective in the 2016-2017 academic year, giving them another early shot at earning high school credit.

Some of those eighth-graders might complete their two mandatory World Language credits by the end of their freshman year of high school. But an even better alternative is for those students who stick with the language through their senior year. That would make a wider variety of Advanced Placement options available.

The school board for Everett Public Schools on Tuesday approved the plan, although it was changed from the district’s initial proposal after concerns were expressed about eliminating one semester of mandatory physical education to free up more slots for electives, including Spanish.

Eliminating one semester of gym class came with the support of some parents who wanted their children to take a full year of some other elective, such as art, music or technology and robotics, in addition to Spanish, associate superintendent of curriculum, assessment and special programs Tony Byrd told the board.

Several P.E. teachers protested that plan and the district’s process.

Citing the need for a full year of gym class, Penny Wilder, a P.E. teacher at Evergreen Middle School, told the board, “National data shows obesity continues to rise, with no end in sight.

“Many of us felt the decision to add Spanish and cut P.E. was already made, and then our opinions were asked after the fact,” Wilder said.

Her sentiments were shared by the board. Board Vice President Caroline Mason introduced an amendment that preserved the full year physical education requirement while also introducing Spanish. The amended version passed unanimously.

Byrd said the result of that might be fewer students taking Spanish in the eighth grade.

“It will make it impossible for students to take music for a year as well as Spanish for a year,” Byrd said. “There are parents who want to do that.”

Complicating the debate over the Spanish program is the uncertain funding environment the district faces. At the same meeting, the board also voted to delay implementing a 24-credit high school graduation plan until 2021.

That means the current crop of seventh-graders would be the first class for whom 24 credits would be required for graduation, as opposed to the 22 credits now required.

There were several factors prompting the board to postpone the state-mandated increase, which included the cost of raising the graduation limit (at least $600,000 per year in staffing costs, Byrd said) and the fact that under a 24-credit system, with six classes in the day, any failing grades would require students to make up the lost credits and would result in them possibly not graduating on time.

A more significant consideration is the district could lose about $10.1 million if the Legislature doesn’t extend an expiring law that increased the amount of levy money that could be used to pay for some expenses, including some salaries.

That happens in 2017. Byrd said it was hard to predict what a $10.1 million hit to the district’s budget would look like. It would probably most affect programs, materials or professional development because most salaries are set by contracts with teacher unions.

The hit would come at a time when the district is trying to ramp up its language program.

“Our goal is to launch more language beginning in kindergarten and moving up,” Byrd said.

Other options the district is considering are establishing a dual-English-Spanish pilot program in one elementary school in the 2018-2019 school year, and expanding high school Chinese classes to Cascade and Henry M. Jackson high schools.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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