Board Considers Music and Language Cuts


Brendan Zbanek

Seniors Nikolai Ewing and Emily Boron display some of the Latin club’s awards.

This story was updated at 8:43 p.m. to include comment from Dr. David Glasner.

The Board of Education heard yesterday proposed changes to language and music instruction at the middle school that evoked dissent from students, teachers and parents. Today, high school students created a petition to protest reports of discontinuing Latin instruction at Woodbury Elementary School and Greek classes at the high school.

The proposed middle school changes include a “Performing Arts/Language Acquisition A/B Rotation,” differing from the current schedule in which all classes are held daily according to the “Shaker Heights Middle School Schedule Update” slideshow. The school day would shift from eight, 42-minute classes to seven, 52-minute classes. These changes were presented at last night’s board meeting after about 50 minutes of public comment, most of which opposed the plan.

“This change to the schedule sends a clear message that we are devaluing language learning. There is no other message there,” middle school German teacher Kristen Sylvester said during the Public Comment period, which BOE President Dr. Emmitt Jolly extended to accommodate more speakers.

In a phone interview, Dr. David Glasner, superintendent, emphasized that the schedule the district presented at the meeting is not final, but he could not offer a timeline for when a schedule will be approved by the board. “Feedback does inform our planning,” he said.

Glasner said that the middle school schedule has often been a subject of discussion. “I would say almost on a yearly basis because it is really challenging. And we’re going to keep working to try to get it right for as many students, to meet as many students’ needs, as possible,” he said.

Senior Emily Boron, who takes Latin and Orchestra, along with senior Lizzy Huang and junior Matthew Huang, decided to speak at the meeting after learning about the plan. “I knew that a lot of teachers were emailing the Board about it, but I figured there wouldn’t be a lot of student interaction,” Boron said.

“I wanted students’ voices to be heard because, of course, it would be students that this would be affecting,” Boron said. “Emotionally, we emphasize the impact on students because we are the students.”

According to Sylvester, middle school students who struggle in math and English attend a workshop class instead of attending a language acquisition class. “If we’re concerned about these 10 extra minutes making up the data so that student test scores on some state tests will be better, the students who are struggling already and not hitting those marks,” she told the Board. “Those students are already pulled from language acquisition classes into workshop, so they’re getting twice the math or twice the English already.”

Dr. John Moore, director of curriculum, Dr. Chris Rateno, director of student data systems and accountability, Jalen Brown, acting middle school principal and Felicia Evans, director of school leadership, presented a “Shaker Heights Middle School Update” in which they discussed changes to the school’s schedule. “Teachers have asked for increased instructional time in core subjects — particularly in Math and Language & Literature. This need is supported by the District’s Key Performance Indicator (KPI) data. Teachers have asked for increased co-teaching support when possible. Providing access to visual and performing arts and all other IB MYP courses is a priority,” the slide, titled “The Why,” stated.

Glasner said that he heard this sentiment consistently from middle school teachers and administrators during recent visits to the school. “There’s a limited amount of time during the school day, and if we wanted to add instructional time, we’ve got to find places to get that time from,” he said.

Boron and senior Latin student Nikolai Ewing created a petition today titled “Save Shaker Heights’ Woodbury Latin Program and High School Greek Program” after learning about changes that would eliminate those programs. At 4:50 p.m., 146 people had signed the petition, which was created around 12 p.m., according to Boron.

“The Shaker Heights School District is currently planning to cut Latin instruction entirely at Woodbury Elementary School (grades 5-6) and Greek instruction at the High School,” the petition’s caption states. “Please help us petition the Shaker Heights School District to preserve our Latin and Greek programs.”

“We are working to see if we can continue to offer Latin in sixth grade, in person, throughout the school day next year,” Glasner said.

He also explained that high school students were given the opportunity to select Greek for next year, but whether or not the course will be offered will be determined by enrollment.  “A small handful of students have indicated interest in enrolling in Greek at the high school for next year,” Glasner said. “As with all of our other subject areas at the high school, unless it’s required for graduation, we do have to make decisions. If students aren’t interested in taking the course, we have to make decisions about whether or not to continue offering that course.”

According to Glasner, enrollment in these classes has been steadily declining in recent years. “Currently, at Woodbury, this year there are 25 sixth-grade students enrolled in Latin, and we have a full-time teacher teaching those 25 students.

Said Glasner, “That is an unusual and not sustainable teacher-to-student ratio.”

The Shakerite will continue to cover this story as it develops.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct Glasner’s comment regarding early grades Latin instruction.

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