Robotics, World Languages Head Agenda at Madison Board of Education Meeting

Board members review agenda. From left, Superintendent Michael Rossi, Business Administrator Gary Lane, curriculum Director Matthew Mingle, board members Dave Arthur, Leslie Lajewski and Thomas Haralampoudis. Credits: Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – The Board of Education heard lively presentations at its Tuesday meeting involving the reintroduction of Spanish in second grade and the huge spurt in membership for the robotics team.

Stacy Snider, supervisor of the World Language Department, described the goals and research done by a committee composed of staff, board members, parents and teachers.

She said they had looked at 22 comparable districts and received 468 responses to a survey. Snider said Millburn was dissatisfied with the Rosetta Stone program and is looking into other options. In Harding, St. Vincent’s school offers Spanish up to sixth grade, but those students don’t place at the highest level when they come to Madison. “The frequency of instruction makes a difference,” Snider said.

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Spanish had been offered earlier in Madison’s elementary schools, but was discontinued in 2009-10 for budget reasons. She said Spanish was the most popular choice in the survey, with a distant second of Mandarin Chinese. “I was impressed with the comments and the depth of response,” she said. . Rosetta Stone was not a popular with the students, she said. The committee looked at other on-line programs, but most “had a number of kinks.”  She said that you learn best from a teacher and the course needs to be given more than once a week. Snider proposed two 40-minute sessions, with an emphasis on both language and culture.  A concern is finding the time, which might have an impact on another area.  The state mandate, she said, was “very vague” with no details, but encouraged cultural awareness. 

Financial costs include salaries for two teachers, at $150,000, materials and textbooks, for a total of $165,000. In 2015, another teacher would be added, bringing the costs to $225,000.

Board member James Novotny asked about a mix of languages to provide broader exposure. Snider said at the sixth-grade level, students have the option of Mandarin Chinese, French or Italian.

“We want to make it fun and interesting,” she said of the second-grade proposal.

The committee also asked parents if they would "pay to play" by giving their children the experience in summer camp or after school programs in other communities. “About 50 percent said yes,” she said.  

Joe Kennedy gave a presentation on the Robotics Team, its goals and budget.  He described the “incredible” growth of the team, from starting with six active members in 2010, doubled in 2011 and there were 16 in 2013. “We expect more that 20 next year,” Kennedy said. “It’s not a small thing. We’re competing against every team in the state.”

The team holds all-day workshops in August, participates in Bottle Hill Day and May Day and was the first qualifier at the Bayonne event.

Expenses include a stipend of $1,100 for the coach and material expenses for a total of $3,623. “We’ll   pay $2,000 for a consultant, there are weight room expenses and event fees,” Kennedy said. There are also one-time costs, such as new bricks and replacement parts. On the income side is a district contribution of $2,000 and activity fees for 17 students, totaling $1,700. 

Goals are to qualify for the world championship and to host a qualifier tournament to generate income. Kennedy also urged the board to consider increasing the coach’s stipend, comparing it to sports coaches that can average $6,000 versus $1,000.  “That may be because we started as a club,” he said.

In conclusion, Kennedy said that with more students, the team will need additional resources.  Tools for the prototype are expensive, he said. “We’re not asking for a huge amount, $1,000 to $1,500 would really help.”

Board President Lisa Ellis said, “It frustrates all of us. We’re limited by funding. We should be able to do more.”

Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi commented on “the wonderful presentations.” 

Ellis announced that the next meeting, Feb. 25, will include a buildings and grounds report.


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