LOWELL -- School Committee member Kim Scott wants Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco to reinstate middle-school foreign-language instruction in time for the 2015-16 school year.
Scott's motion, which would return foreign-language education to the city's middle schools after about a decade, earned unanimous School Committee approval on Wednesday night.
"I'm not aware of when we cut middle-school foreign language, but I think it's time for us to look to bring it back," Scott said in explaining the rationale for her motion. "Foreign language is an important 21st-century skill. Many parochial skills and charter schools in the city are offering middle-school foreign language. Many are even offering elementary foreign language instruction.
"I think it's important for us to offer this as a competitive advantage. Even if we start it at the eighth-grade level and go slowly, it's a start."
Scott's colleagues offered similar support, in addition to their vote backing her motion.
"This will be valuable going forward and if we look at it going slowly by bringing in an eighth-grade teacher, that's a good start," said committee member James Leary.
Member David Conway asked Franco when foreign language was cut from the middle school. "We had a tutor program at Robinson School when I first came to Lowell. I think it was about nine years ago when we did this. It's been quite a long time, back when we did multi-million dollar cuts."
Conway asked if Lowell taught foreign language in all schools at the time.
"Yes, when I first came to Lowell, we had it in middle schools," said Franco, adding that only Spanish was taught in the schools at the time. "At that particular time, it was considered a special subject, but we did have foreign language across the district in middle schools at the seventh and eighth grade(s)."
Conway then asked Franco what costs there were to bring it back.
"For you to run this right, you couldn't share a position for more than a couple of schools," Franco said. "We have eight middle schools, two K-8. Minimally, you would need someone for a half-day to get those eighth-grade classes in. I would consider the next level of foreign language education to be technology-based in real time. I would opt not to have a regular textbook. The materials in foreign language are expensive, $100 per student, but to at least start off, you would need four or five staff members and we have about 1,300 kids per grade level."
Member Stephen Gendron said, "Obviously, we're constrained in the budget, but it's worth making it a priority."