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Schools consider foreign language program revamp

The Ashland School Board on Monday will discuss revamping the district's foreign language program — by starting French or Spanish instruction in kindergarten.

Before the budget crisis hit last spring, the board commissioned a report on how to improve second language instruction.

Now that the Second Language Task Force has completed its study — which calls for continuous foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten — there is no money to implement the changes the task force recommends, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said Friday.

"There's nothing in the report I disagree with, but unfortunately right now the budget is an issue for us," she said.

The recession forced the cash-strapped district to trim its budget by nearly 15 percent last spring.

The board could opt to implement some of the changes the report recommends — but it would mean cutting other programs, Di Chiro said.

"Basically what we'd have to do is look at cutting something else to put this into effect," she said. "I just don't see how we can afford it."

The report calls on district officials to find a way to fund an improved foreign language program, even if it means "reducing other current programs."

"We believe that even in these difficult economic times, Ashland must prioritize the study of second languages," the report states. "If done well, second language acquisition could redefine our school district and attract students."

The task force was led by Michelle Zundel, former director of education and current Bellview Elementary School Principal.

The report includes three budget options — "first class," "business class" and "economy" — for implementing the foreign language recommendations. The economy option calls for hiring highly qualified Spanish or French teachers to instruct all students, beginning in kindergarten.

Drug use on rise

Also at Monday night's 7 p.m. meeting at the City Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St., Di Chiro will discuss student drug use.

The superintendent will present results from the 2009 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, a questionnaire about drug use that Ashland middle and high school students answered anonymously. At a September board meeting, Di Chiro released portions of the survey showing alcohol and marijuana use had increased among Ashland High School students in the past two years.

The survey data also revealed a higher percentage of Ashland middle and high school students had used alcohol and marijuana than students had statewide. Di Chiro will also present a report from Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness on student drug use.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.