The decision to dead-end the German program at Ridgefield High School after this school year was lamented by parents and students — seven people spoke, one sang — but a solution seemed nowhere in sight at the Board of Education’s meeting Monday, Nov. 14. The board took no vote, but discussion made apparent that the empty desks threatening German are likely to affect other academic areas as enrollment continues to decline.
“What’s happening in German is not the anomaly,” said board member Doug Silver. “Watch French. Five years from now French will be in the same predicament.”
The board heard demographic consultants project that the K-12 enrollment could be expected to fall by 500 to 700 students over the next 10 years, from 4,972 in 2016-17 to between 4,490 and 4,273 in 2026-27 — depending on the projection model.
At the high school, the demographers from Milone & MacBroom see enrollment declining 17% to 19% over the next decade, falling from 1,711 to between 1,418 and 1,390 in 2026-27.
Superintendent of Schools Karen Baldwin said Tuesday that the administration would keep working at the problem.
“The administration will examine short-term and long-range solutions,” Baldwin said, “and likely bring a framework topic back to the BOE.”
Seven German supporters spoke in the public comment period.
“All we know is a fantastic program is being eliminated,” said Jeremy Haber. He faulted the school system for “governance issues” and lack of “transparency” about the situation.
“My daughter enrolled in German expecting to take four full years,” he said.
“I’ve been fighting for German for five years now,” said Bebe McCarthy. “I think it’s really sad when we dumb-down the curriculum.”
More difficult decisions appear to lie ahead.
“Are we a comprehensive high school? Is that our goal?” Silver asked fellow board members.
The enrollment squeeze will also be felt in the middle schools with their academic teams.
“This is about to hit our middle schools in a couple of years — the ‘teaming’ questions,” Silver said.
“What is the point at which we say, ‘We can’t lose French! We can’t lose teaming!’” said board member Karen Sulzinsky.
Board member David Cordisco was persuaded.
“We need to figure out how do we let kids finish,” he said. “We’re talking about college acceptances here — that’s big.”
Personnel Director Karen Dewing said enrollment in German at various levels had gone from 88 last year to 48 this year — although initial sign-ups last March had been 80.
Other languages are also seeing declines.Italian is going from 162 students last year to 155 this year; Latin from 174 students last year tp 172 this year; Mandarin from 86 to 79.
With small enrollments, scheduling becomes harder in the later years of a sequence — German I, German II, German III. It’s difficult to maintain reasonable class sizes.
“There’s classes of four,” HIgh School Principal Stacey Gross said of German. “You’re running two classes of four students. We were backed against a wall and wanted to finish the sequence out.”
Walton recalled that the cut-off point for holding a class used to be 15 students.
Complicating the situation, the administration said, a German teacher resigned over the summer, rather than work only part-time or teach four German classes and one class of something else, to make up the full five-class load.
“Our teacher of German did provide a letter of resignation,” Dewing said.
Under the contract with the National Education Association-Ridgefield, the teachers’ union, a full-time position involves teaching five classes, and the board can’t deviate from that.
“It was a challenging dynamic,” Baldwin told the board, “that was presented late in our process.”