BOE adopts elementary world language proposal

Board of Education members Clara Sartori, Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross and Heather Shea review the world language proposal at Tuesday night's meeting. Photo by Thomas Michael
Board of Education members Clara Sartori, Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross and Heather Shea review the world language proposal at Tuesday night's meeting. Photo by Thomas MichaelContributed Photo

After years of debate, the Board of Education Tuesday approved a proposal for a world languages program, which would include a 45-minute Spanish lesson once a week to kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Darien's five elementary schools.

According to the proposal, one teacher will be hired for each school, costing an estimated $320,000 which includes materials and imposing a shift in the schedule to a six-day rotation.

Board member Amy Bell, who voted against the program, expressed concerns regarding all of these issues.

"We don't know what else is being proposed in the spending budget," Bell said, reading from a prepared statement. "Normally we would do both, voting on a concept as well as voting on the budget."

Bell was the only board member who spoke out against the proposal.

Board member Clara Sartori was skeptical at first, explaining her sense of the community's division in the board's February budget meeting, when they originally cut the proposed budget for the program.

"I'm going to support the proposal because it is a beginning," Sartori said Tuesday night. "It's time to begin with this program, but to begin slowly."

"I'm going to disagree with that," said board member James Plutte, who supported the proposal. Plutte echoed comments he made in February, suggesting that Darien start strong.

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"We've devised a plan for that program and we are going to deliver it to the best of our ability," said Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone.

Falcone said this plan is how the board wants to see schools operate, speaking on behalf of those who supported the program.

Bell disagreed. One of her concerns was based on a study she found that suggests elementary school students learning a foreign language only retain "isolated words and memorized phrases."

However, Falcone indicated the world languages program will not only serve the students' ability to speak, read and write Spanish -- goals he mentioned in November -- it will also cater to the their interests in other cultures.

"We want students to develop an appreciation of cultures other than their own," Falcone said. "We feel it's important. We want to provide the students with a critical opportunity."

Parents, some motivated by their own success from early foreign language exposure, are perhaps the largest support group for the proposal. A blog,, was created to rally support from parents, asking them to "contact our local officials and let them know you want foreign language in our elementary schools," said the first post, on Nov. 16, 2009.

In Dec. 2010, the blog posted a poll that asked, "Would you pay a nominal fee to have foreign language/s taught at your elementary school?" Of the 599 votes, 91 percent voted "yes."

In February, Karen Christansen wore the color red to show her support at the board's budget hearing. She mentioned a petition that circulated in spring 2010 that gathered 1,700 names in support of the proposal.

When it came time for the board to vote, Bell did not raise her hand.

"It would have been helpful to me, and perhaps other board members, if we had been provided with a better proposal," Bell said.

Sartori, who had her doubts before, saw it differently.

"The community is divided," Sartori said, "and I think it's important to show them by example."