The Bethlehem Central School District’s Chinese language program is ending sooner than expected after the interview process for a new teacher was unsuccessful.
The Board of Education made its decision on Tuesday, July 1, following a recommendation from Superintendent Tom Douglas and Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Jody Monroe. District officials said in April it was becoming difficult to continue with the program because of low student enrollment and the challenge of finding a certified teacher with the appropriate visas to work in the United States.
Monroe said over the course of the interview process, 13 people applied for the position and six were interviewed. Some were then asked to come in to teach a class as an example of their teaching style. Out of all the candidates, one was offered the job but then declined.
“At this time, there are none we would recommend moving forward with,” said Monroe.
The program will continue to be phased out at the high school, with students taking online courses and a knowledgeable Mandarin speaker brought in to oversee the class and help out. The assistant can’t teach the class because the person is not certified.
Middle school students will be asked to switch languages. Spanish is preferable because the school offers an accelerated course. A free, two-week Spanish enrichment program is also being offered this month for those students. The district said it would also work with anyone who wished to take French, but that option might be harder on students.
“We want everyone to know this was not a student issue,” said Douglas, adding it was immigration law, state regulations and the applicant pool which made it tenuous to find a qualified teacher.
Many on the Board felt the situation was unfortunate that the decision had to be made, and they thanked Monroe and the Language Department for all their hard work in searching for a candidate.
Some parents and students are not happy with the new arrangement. At previous meetings, those who spoke out against the plan said the district had an obligation to the students who already began taking Chinese to let them finish classes through high school. Douglas said students who took Chinese and then switched to a different language may be eligible to take the proficiency exam to at least get one high school credit for the Chinese they’ve already learned.
Ewan McNay, whose son Aiden will be entering seventh grade, said he was not only disappointed in the district’s decision but also the timing.
The final decision was made on July 1, with letter being sent out to parents at the end of the week. McNay received the letter in the mail on Monday, July 7 — the same day the enrichment course was set to begin. The class also takes place in the middle of the day from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., when it would be hard for parents who work to drop-off their middle school students.
“Aiden is already away at camp, which we planned and paid for in October,” said McNay. “A lot of other parents said they didn’t even know of the decision until I e-mailed them because their letters hadn’t arrived yet.”
McNay said he was hoping another set of enrichment classes would be held so all students affected could take part. He also wanted to know if the district had reached out to professors at local colleges to see if they would be able to teach classes part-time, as was suggested at a parent meeting.
Monroe said she did reach out to both SUNY and New York University to see if they had any candidates who may be in the process of becoming certified, as the district would of explored helping the candidate receive a variance until their certification was complete. None were interested. She explained the problem was the district was hiring for a full-time position, so the likelihood was low they would give up the jobs they have now to come teach at Bethlehem.
According to Monroe, they chose to hold the Introduction to Spanish summer enrichment class during the regular summer enrichment program “because there is a nurse on staff and administrators on hand. It was also best in terms of scheduling because it would give students the option of taking our other summer enrichment classes.”
There are three blocks of classes, which begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 3:15 p.m. The Introduction to Spanish class takes place in the second block out of the three due to staffing. The student of parents who work can then opt to take other enrichment classes and stay for the day.
“At this time, there are no plans to offer another Spanish enrichment course this summer. We explained to parents that we had no expectation or requirement that the students take the enrichment class; it is just something we’re offering to help students in their transition,” said Monroe in a written statement. “Any middle school student coming from Chinese and entering the modified and accelerated Spanish course in the fall will have all needed supporting materials for their language transition.”