On a IV-II Vote, Mount Greylock Keeps Latin Program

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A divided Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday voted to restore the middle-high school's Latin program for the 2024-25 academic year and beyond.
Six members of the committee attended the special meeting called last week to decide on whether to keep Mount Greylock a two-world language school or only offer Spanish to incoming seventh-graders starting in the fall.
Steven Miller moved at the outset of Tuesday's session that the School Committee utilize more or less $66,000 from the committee's reserves to close a funding gap for fiscal year 2025 and commit to funding Latin until at least next year's seventh-graders have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement Latin, presumably in their senior year of 2029-30.
Miller was joined by Jose Constantine, Curtis Elfenbein and Ursula Maloy in voting in favor of the plan. Christina Conry and Carolyn Greene voted against Miller's motion.
Conry noted that in the school year that just ended, Mount Greylock had just 58 students enrolled in Latin across six different grade levels (an average of just fewer than 10 per grade), as opposed to 300 students studying Spanish.
Prior to this spring's announcement that the school would not offer Latin 7 (for seventh-graders) or Latin 8 in 2024-25, there were 15 students signed up for the former and just 10 for the latter.
Historically, over the last nine years, Mount Greylock's student population studying the classic language went from 103 in 2015-16 to 58 last year, with a spike of 148 in the 2018-19 academic year, according to figures the administration provided the School Committee on Tuesday.
Before voting on the only item on the agenda for the special meeting, members of the committee reiterated many of the same arguments they raised in last Thursday's monthly meeting and referenced the many emails and direct appeals that community members have made to preserve Latin.
Both Miller and Constantine emphasized the process by which the administration arrived at the decision to trim the Latin program after a budget shortfall emerged subsequent to its passage by the School Committee in March.
"I think — just my opinion — that any curricular decision needs to involve our Student Councils, our parents and caregivers, our students and our community members," Constantine said. "The way this decision was made did not allow for any discussion.
"It could be incoming years that, via our budget process, we're faced with choices we have to make. But making those decisions without consulting community members and parents and caregivers is just not the way to do it."
Greene and Conry both characterized Tuesday's vote as a painful decision, and each said they would have liked to be able to support continuing the Latin program if budget realities allowed.
"Keeping one Latin [full-time equivalent teaching position, or FTE] for what was 57 Latin students last year and would have been 43 students this coming year requires that the three teachers who are teaching the rest of our students teach Spanish each teach additional classes" Greene said. "It is difficult to justify resources for a single teacher while already overtaxing our Spanish teachers.
"One Latin FTE forces three extended contracts in Spanish. Or, put another way, we need 3.6 Spanish FTEs, with only three instructors, in order to provide one FTE in Latin in Latin. That's the $65,000 we're talking about — three extended contracts and the administrative and guidance work it's going to require to reverse course right now."
Interim Superintendent Joseph Bergeron told the committee that, typically, one teacher in middle-high school instructs between 100 and 125 students over the course of a school year.
"Latin was one area where a teacher was serving students in the 40s and 50s total," Bergeron said.
That is partly why Latin came on the chopping block when the administration was faced with a budget hole brought about by lower than expected savings from retirements and departures, which fell short of the projections the district made this winter.
Maloy, who did not attend Thursday's meeting where about a dozen people addressed the School Committee urging it to save the Latin program, said she did read the many emails the panel received.
"I do think after giving this a lot of thought, I like [Miller's] position of committing to fund this for the year and incoming students and taking a more holistic approach to what we should or should not fund in the future," Maloy said. "I'd like to agree with funding it for this year … and take another look next year at what we should do for the long term."
Bergeron, just before the vote, pointed to a feature of the motion on the table that would, in theory, prevent the district from having a full discussion of future options for at least five more budget cycles.
"One thing that I caution you with the motion that is on the floor: You would be placing Latin into a position that no other subject is in in terms of being protected for many years," Bergeron said. "And if you're faced with a couple of hundred thousand dollars in budget deficit, to somehow have taken Latin off the discussion table that we should be having at the School Council level — I don't understand how that decision would be responsible."
Miller shot back that guaranteeing the availability of Latin is the "only responsible thing we can do" for parents thinking of enrolling their rising seventh-graders in Latin 7 for the 2024-25 school year.
After the 4-2 vote to deplete the district's reserves to keep the language program alive, Bergeron said that Mount Greylock's guidance department was prepared for such a decision and would immediately start reaching out to the families of rising seventh- and eighth-graders to talk about their new options.

Tags: languages,   MGRS,   

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