| After an hour-long debate late last week, the Mountain View Whisman school board decided to formalize its interest in exploring foreign language instruction -- a first step which could eventually lead to the district teaching subjects like Mandarin Chinese to its elementary school students.
Technically, the move means language will be added to the district's six strategic goals indicating interest in a district-wide foreign language program. The exact wording and placement of the addition has yet to be determined.
Although last Thursday's discussion came with plenty of skepticism -- including from board president Fiona Walter and Superintendent Maurice Ghysels -- the skeptics ultimately joined the board in a unanimous vote in favor of the addition.
This is not the first time the idea of foreign language instruction has come before the school board. Earlier this year the board heard a presentation from the Yew Chung International School, a foundation which provides Chinese language and cultural instruction.
And last month, while discussing strategic goals, the district's "leadership team" -- which includes trustees, the superintendent and associate superintendent, principals from each school and key district administrators -- considered the possibility of implementing a Mandarin language program. At that time, other priorities such as improving math performance and implementing Continuous Improvement won out, and the proposal did not make it into the district's strategic plan.
Three parents who spoke at Thursday's board meeting said they wanted the district to make teaching foreign language a priority. Parents in Mountain View are currently in the "nascent stages" of putting together a group to promote the idea that children can learn more than one language, said Jane Hsiao, a representative from the Silicon Valley Global Education Foundation.
"We're for the idea of international education in local schools," Hsiao said.
In response to those parents' comments, school board members Philip Palmer and Ellen Wheeler proposed adding foreign language instruction to the strategic goals.
"The longest journey starts with a single step. If we can start down that path, keep our eyes open and don't fall off a cliff, then I'm happy," Palmer said.
But colleagues Walter and RoseMary Roquero hesitated over including foreign language instruction as a strategic goal, saying they did not want to disrupt the process the leadership team had already gone through.
Ghysels said that while he did not want to overload the district with too many priorities, he recognized there was interest in the community to learn foreign languages. He added that the district already has plenty of issues to deal with, including improving both math scores and English language fluency.
"We're putting 110 pounds of potatoes into a 100-pound bag," Ghysels warned. "We need a red-hot subject matter expert that is very good at doing this. We don't have the experience in this area."
Nonetheless, Ghysels eventually supported the idea of putting in writing the district's intent to "explore" foreign language instruction.
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