CHCCS Board of Education considers teleconferencing for world language courses

Phoenix Academy High School, located in the Lincoln Center on Merritt Mill Road, is one of eight middle and high schools that could see Interactive Visual Teleconferencing replace low enrollment world language courses. (Staff photo by Jennifer Jackson)
Phoenix Academy High School, located in the Lincoln Center on Merritt Mill Road, is one of eight middle and high schools that could see Interactive Video Teleconferencing replace low enrollment world language courses. (Staff photo by Jennifer Jackson)

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district is considering teleconferencing to bolster middle and high school world language courses that suffer from low enrollment.

Elaine Watson-Grant, the Dual and World Language Coordinator for CHCCS, presented a recommendation for teaching world language courses affected by low enrollment at the Sept. 5 Board of Education meeting.   She and the Instructional Services Division, in collaboration with Dr. Ray Reitz, the district’s chief technology officer, and his team, suggested exploring a program called Interactive Video Teleconferencing as a possible solution.

“We think that this is a possible solution for low-enrolled courses, not just for world language, but for other courses,” said Watson-Grant.

Interactive Video Teleconferencing (IVT) is a form of distance learning in which audio and visual technologies are used to link multiple locations, according to Watson-Grant’s report.

The data in Watson-Grant’s report reveals that 63 percent of CHCCS secondary-level students were enrolled in a world language course during the academic year of 2012-2013.  Most students were registered in the Spanish (36 percent) and French (14 percent) courses, while Latin, German, Japanese and Chinese courses all had enrollment under 10 percent.  The report also reveals that available data shows similar trends for course enrollment in the academic year of 2013-2014.

Superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Tom Forcella said that this recommendation comes from the inability of the district to support classes with so few students.

“That’s where we are now, but we also know that we’d be hard-pressed, especially in the economic times we’re under and facing in the future.  It’s getting increasingly more difficult to try to offer classes for three or four children.

“The whole idea is that you can have six students at one high school, five in another, seven in another – you can teach all those students at the same time with one teacher,” said Forcella.

Watson-Grant said that Dr. Ray Reitz’s team and the Instructional Services Division visited Cumberland County Schools last spring to learn about how that district is implementing IVT.

“We witnessed a highly organized and efficient system across a very large school district,” said Watson-Grant.  “The training that they have offered their staff was evident in how organized they were and how ready and accessible their staff were when problems arose.”

Watson-Grant explained that planning and implementing for the IVT program would occur over a three-year period, and that the school district would have to consider the cost of purchasing and maintaining the technological equipment over time.  The process would involve identifying faculty – ideally from the staff the district already has – best suited to distance education, training the faculty and piloting the program all before implementing the final IVT solution.

However, Board of Education member Annetta Stokes Streater expressed concern at how long it would take to execute the IVT program.

“I didn’t realize that planning and implementation would take over three years to accomplish,” said Streater.  “That would be my concern – is that given our budgeting challenges right now, if we were to try to maintain the opportunity for students to take courses that don’t have high interest, meaning enough students to fill a class, if we’re going to be able to do that in a timely fashion.  Three years does seem like a long time.”

Despite these issues, Forcella remained optimistic about the proposed solution and wanted to proceed with further investigation of the IVT program.

“We feel it has a lot of potential not just for world language, but even for venturing off into other subjects,” said Forcella.   “And I think it has a lot of potential for staff development.”

Author of the article

Staff writer for the Carrboro Commons