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BOE Discusses New Courses, Budget

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Jordan Shenhar ‘13
Staff Writer

Principal John Dodig outlining new computer science programs to be added next year. | Photo by Jordan Shenhar '13

On Jan. 5, the Board of Education voted unanimously to add four computer-science programs at Staples next year, discussed adding Mandarin Chinese as a middle-school course, and continued to plan the budget for the 2010-11 school year.

Principal John Dodig attended the early part of the meeting to lobby for the addition of Introduction to Programming, Introduction to Web Programming, Building Web Applications, and Software Development classes to the course list for next year. Dodig intends for these new classes to be the beginning of a strong computer-programming department.

Brian Fagan, assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum, proposed the idea to add Mandarin to the world language program in the middle schools. In a mail-in poll conducted by the Board earlier this year, 28 percent of respondents said their child would choose Mandarin over Spanish or French as their foreign language in middle school. The idea of dropping French, which only 25% of respondents believed their child would take, have an interest in taking, was discussed, but is considered unlikely.

Board members Elaine Whitney and Mark Mathias raised doubts about the viability of adding a new program in the midst of this recession and with the school system potentially facing a flat budget for nest year. Faith Taylor suggested that the course may be too rigorous for middle school students.

An equally pressing concern was the fact that the population of Coleytown Middle School may be too small to sustain and staff three foreign languages. The Board considered it “unlikely that [a course] would be offered at one [middle] school and not the other.

However, Fagan was insistent on the possible success of this program. He attested that survey results were positive for adding a Chinese course. He also mentioned the success of a similar program implemented at middle schools in Ridgefield. “It will be very interesting to see the fluency of a student [after completing the program],” he said.

The Board’s final order of business was to discuss the budget. According to Nancy Harris, the BOE is facing a budget deficit of $300,000 for this school year, mainly because the district is almost $400,000 short for teacher salaries. The new teacher contracts are expected to help bridge this gap, as teachers will have to pay a higher percentage of health insurance premiums and deductibles in compliance with the new contract.

Investing in various projects is a difficult proposition. “There is money in some lines…but there are risks in others,” said Board chairman Donald O’Day. The district has recently spent $89,000 on replacing the filter in the Staples pool. Paraprofessionals in all fourth-grade classes, elementary school libraries, and middle school gifted programs have all been cut of late. Music lessons at Staples are also defunct.

All Board members were present except for Jim Marpe.

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  1. Mike Schneider on January 10th, 2010 5:28 pm

    Didn't they just cut the Comp Sci department all together last year? I raise this not to be a cynic, but instead to question the short-term mindset that the BOE and administrators seem to have. Is it prudent to hire new teachers for the experimental offering of peripheral courses at the high school level or a new language at the middle school level, especially when the money could be used to hire new staff to cut down the size of pre-existing courses? Yes, global and technological literacy are important for 21st century students, but umbrellas of skills such as these can, and should, be incorporated into courses that all students will take.

  2. Staples Parent on January 13th, 2010 5:15 am

    You're right! See the Inklings story http://www.inklingsnews.com/archives/1139 . Are these courses really necessary? Why didn't Inklings question the administration on why they are changing their minds? Wasn't low enrollment the reason they gave last year. I have no isuse with college/life prep courses, but this is another waste of money.

  3. Mark Lassoff on January 15th, 2010 4:43 pm

    Computer science is one of the most complex and rigorous sciences that one can study.  I have to disagree with "Staples Parent" who doesn't think that computer science represents college or life prep and sees computer science instruction as a "waste of money."    Computer science represents several skill sets that will serve students well in both academic and life pursuits.  Computer science teaches high end problem solving, logic, application of mathematics, creativity and collaboration.  Many high schools across the US offer Computer Science at the AP level– and the fact that Staples does not is saddening.  

    Having worked in the industry for the last decade, and speaking nationally on issues of computer science education and eLearning, I can honestly say that the field and its value is widely misunderstood. Computer science is not about using Word or Excel.  It is about creating and applying complex algorithms to problems and using code to solve those problems.  

    Computer science has offered great careers– both academic and commercial– to many Staples graduates.   These positions are lucrative, interesting and rewarding.  Denying Staples students and introduction to what can be an extremely challenging and rewarding field would be a shame.  Computer science is mainstream science and taught at almost every university and high school in the United States.  Why should Staples not be among them?
    My recent post C Tutorial- Tutorial 4: Conditionals- If, Else, Else IF

  4. Staples Parent on January 16th, 2010 11:50 am

    Please read my post and your post again. I didn't say computer science courses were a waste of money. I said the demand wasn't there so they were a waste of money. I wonder whether many of the high end public schools around here have these level of courses. My sense is for the enrichment, interested students take courses in one of the local colleges.

  5. Lynn on February 3rd, 2010 3:51 pm

    I am a Darien parent. We are faced with the same budget issues. We have not been notified yet that the music program will be completely cut. What I would do if that happens is make sure that it is back in the budget in 3 years time. Be careful of cuts in a recession that are not planned back in as revenue streams increase in future years.

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