Farwell educators agree Chinese Immersion should stay

The longest discussion at Farwell’s Board of Education meeting on Monday night centered around the Chinese Immersion program the district initiated two years ago.  At their last meeting, the Board requested that the Elementary staff meet to discuss how they would like to proceed with the program.

Elementary Principal Tim Moore reported, “We met as a group; we decided we like the model that we have.  We believe that it’s best for students.  Not only students who are in the Chinese Immersion program, but students who are not in the immersion program get the benefits of smaller class sizes.”

That model is one that adds one Chinese teacher to the four “Western” teachers at each grade level, and does not require that any current teachers be displaced.  Keeping with that model, as the study of Chinese progresses through the grades in the Elementary School, would mean hiring a Chinese teacher every year.

At their last meeting, Superintendent Carl Seiter estimated that it costs the district about $52,000 a year to hire each additional Chinese teacher.  The problem with that, of course, is that Farwell, like all districts in the State, is finding itself increasingly squeezed for funding.

The best way to make the Chinese Immersion program financially viable is for it to attract more students to Farwell.  Although Moore estimated that the Immersion program attracted ten students to the district this year, he added, “We can make no guarantees about how many students this program will [continue to] attract.”

Several Elementary School teachers were at the meeting and spoke about how the Chinese and “Western” programs are integrated, and shared concerns about making sure that all the educational bases were covered.

Spanish teacher Sean Hill presented the Board with studies showing that students involved in foreign language immersion programs far outperformed their non-immersion counterparts, but noted that their increased performance did not often show up in testing until the later elementary grades.  Board member Duffey Doxtader said he would like to see data on the students in the immersion program, even if it still too early to determine its overall benefit.

Seiter voiced his opinion on the matter, saying, “I think, personally, we need to keep the immersion program as immersion.”  The Board agreed to continue to discuss the immersion program – and how to afford it – at subsequent meetings.

Business Manager Jacob Sullivan updated the Board with 2012-2013 budget estimates he was able to revise via numbers taken from Governor Snyder’s newly-released budget.  All districts will be paying increased retirement rates, Sullivan said, which will be offset slightly by an additional $15 per student.

Student achievement monies will be available, but Sullivan projected that Farwell would only qualify for one of the three incentives. The State’s “best practices” money will continue into the 2012-2013 school year – with new goals that require districts to meet five out of six objectives – but will only be distributed if there is money left after payouts for student achievement.

The way things stand after his budget adjustments:  Sullivan predicted that the district would have a $321,000 deficit by the end of the 2012-2013 school year.  “That number has to be zero or above,” Sullivan told the Board.

When discussing the immersion program and the budget ramifications, Superintendent Seiter remarked, “I’m here to tell you, what’s best for kids is for us not to cut.”  “As we develop the budget for next year, we’ll be looking at talking to staff, administration, having finance committee discussions, as well as maybe a budget workshop with the full Board, and we are going to identify areas that we may need to trim back in,” Seiter continued, “It boils down to a prioritization of what things we can do to trim our budget and still maintain our programs because that, entirely, is what it’s about.”

Seiter gave the Board an update on the bullying policy recently passed by the State legislature, and informed the Board of the changes to their policy that NEOLA recommended in order to be in compliance.  Seiter said that the policy must be posted in each building, that the staff must be formally trained, and that he must provide the Board with a report of all bullying incidents.

“The bullying policy has to be fully implemented by the end of the year – June 30th,” Seiter told the Board.

Also at Monday’s meeting, High School Principal Dee Yarger congratulated the Students of the Month for February.  They are: freshman Karrisa John, sophomore Glenn McDaniel, junior Hanna Sprague and senior Hunter Taylor.  The Student of the Month at Timberland, congratulated by Dean of Students Bob First, is Karen Wilson.

In other business at Monday night’s Farwell BOE meeting, the Board:

*approved operational expenses in the amount of $431,819.87.

*accepted a donation of $500 from Nathan Rogers for softball uniforms.

*accepted a donation of $2,917 from Central Michigan Hunters Unlimited, from which the district purchased seven right-hand bows, one left-hand bow, targets and arrows.

*accepted an anonymous donation of $220 for the Pinecone Fund, which allowed the fund to reach the $5,000 threshold needed to implement their endowment fund.

*accepted a $50 donation from the Clare County Women’s Club for use by the drama club.

*accepted a $200 donation from Wayne and Amy Saupe for softball uniforms.

*heard from Superintendent Seiter that the February student count dropped from 1,452 in the fall to 1,416, a loss of 36 students.

*approved the first reading of the NEOLA policies, minus policy #3131.

*accepted the resignation of High School Social Studies teacher, Mark Herron.

*went into Closed Session at 8:48 p.m. for a student discipline hearing.