Brattleboro middle school language cuts cause concern

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BRATTLEBORO — Two retired teachers are against reducing staff hours for language programs.

Former Brattleboro Union High School French teacher Maggie Cassidy and Judy Abascal, former head of the language department at BUHS, are asking for reconsideration of a budgetary decision that will affect Brattleboro Area Middle School. They both live in the Brattleboro Union High School District, too.

"We believe that teaching so many students and so many different classes would not be realistic for just one full-time position, no matter how that position is configured," Cassidy and Abascal said in a statement. "So we're thinking of asking the voters to approve adding $12,000 to the budget for the 0.25 position. With no benefits and no paid planning time, we believe that this part-time position is a bargain for the school and essential to maintaining the district's strong language program."

Currently, the idea is go from one full-time teacher and a teacher considered to work one-fourth of a full-time position to just one full-time position.

"We are not cutting any programs or services for students," said Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Ron Stahley. "All subject area classes are being maintained and students will have the same educational program options as in the past."

Reductions through the proposed budget have to do with low class sizes, Stahley said. A budget will be voted on Tuesday by board members before Representative Town Meeting next month.

"Class sections that have been 15 to 18 students have dropped in some cases to five to seven students in a class," Stahley said. "We have had to make several reductions including full-time art and English positions, career center positions reduced by 0.17 percent and 0.33 percent, and two full-time reductions in administrative staff."

But this comes when "enrollment in language classes has increased over the past few years," according to Cassidy and Abascal, who say that's party due to students arriving at the middle school with up to five years of French and Spanish speaking experience in Brattleboro elementary schools.

Instructors at the middle school teach 291 students French and Spanish in seventh and eighth grade classes and German in eighth grade. They also run an Introduction to World Languages class.

Cassidy and Abascal noted their gratitude for past support from the Brattleboro Union High School board and the community at large.

"Their support has built a strong program that has equipped students to use language in the wider world and allows advanced language students to earn up to six college credits through the Windham Collegiate High School," said Cassidy and Abascal. "We're also very grateful for the hard work of the BUHS and BAMS administrators and board members in preparing next year's budget. And we know they had to make many hard choices in the face of overall decreasing enrollment."

A letter from Cassidy and Abascal, read to the board on Monday, Feb. 1, said the part-time position is a crucial part of a fully integrated language program that includes classrooms in Brattleboro from elementary to high school. They worry about how the reduction could affect students' plans, especially those who already started down a certain path.

Courses at the middle school allow students to continue with a language or begin learning a new one. Once students get to the high school, they can progress to an advanced level where it's then possible to earn six college credits before graduation.

"BAMS has been lucky to have this particular teacher (Linda Brown), with her near-native language, previous experience in France and excellent relationships with students," the letter said. "She has 96 students this year in a 0.25 position that pays no benefits and pays for no prep time. We have been involved in hiring many language teachers and we think that eliminating this valuable teacher, who could easily find another job and would be nearly impossible to replace, is a false economy."

Cassidy and Abascal also pointed out that BAMS and BUHS are schools of choice for a lot of families in the area, saying the strong language program plays a big factor in their choosing to come to Brattleboro.

"We believe that this position is vital to the program," the letter said. "We recognize and appreciate that the board always works hard to present an affordable budget to district voters. In previous years, the board has already reduced and eliminated language teaching positions in response to changes in enrollment. We think that for the less than $12,000 for this position, the district is getting a bargain for its students."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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