Save the Westtown German Program sign now

As members of the Westtown community, we are deeply concerned to learn of the schools decision to discontinue the German program. We believe that the German language has an important role in the world and is a valuable asset to students. The inclusion of German at Westtown allows the school to greatly extend its vision of a global community, and the program has had a profound impact on the lives of many students and alumni.

While the current economy has certainly strained resources, it is difficult to understand why German, as a unique, valuable and currently quite popular program, would be sacrificed. We are troubled by the method in which the administration came to this conclusion and urge to school to re-evaluate the decision using the full process for decision making regarding the curriculum.

Curriculum changes at Westtown are traditionally evaluated through a Curriculum Committee or an Academic Committee. College Counseling is typically asked for input on such changes as well. If the committee process ends with a recommendation for changes, the Upper School faculty is usually asked to give the changes their full support.

As described in the minutes of the Faculty listening session, the question of whether to discontinue a language was first suggested by the principals with oversight of the program. The Non-Western Language Committee responsible for the addition of Mandarin to the language curriculum had made no such recommendation to discontinue an existing language program. The principals, together with John Baird and a small group of other members decided it was necessary to phase out a European language, both for financial reasons and to ensure an appropriate level of enrollment across all available languages. Eventually it was decided to cut German from the language program, though the criterion for cutting that particular language remains unclear. While the Language Department and other faculty were later informed and allowed to comment on the decision, at no point in the decision making process did the administrative group seek input from the broader community.

Discussed through committee ensures that the ultimate decision reflects the broad vision for Westtowns future. By limiting the decision making process to a small group of the administration, this vision for the future is made narrower. Furthermore, it sets a dangerous precedent to suggest that there is an alternative to the committee for making tough decisions. Such a move seriously undermines the authority and trust placed in a committee. It is disappointing that the administration chose to put German on the chopping block, but inexcusable that they would do so independently of the established process for making such decisions.

The language program in the Upper School has as its goal to prepare the students of Westtown for a world in which they are ever increasingly interacting with people of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. We are proud to see that Westtown has invested heavily in facilities and program during the last decade in order to make progress on this goal. The present language department is virtually unmatched in quality and breadth anywhere in the country. We urge the school to aggressively advertise this aspect of the Westtown experience to continue to attract the broadest spectrum of students. It is a part of the school to celebrate and not an area in which the school should retreat.

For all of these reasons, we strongly urge the school to revisit the decision to cut the German program utilizing the full process for Quaker decision making prior to setting the curriculum for the 2010-2011 school year. The manner in which this decision is made will allow us to more fully evaluate our support for the school in the coming years. We remain confident that with a complete evaluation of the program based on current enrollment, the broader impact of German in the world and Westtowns goal of creating a global community, the school will choose to continue this valuable program.

Additional supporting documentation of our position is available at: http://tinyurl.com/GermanSupport

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration,

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Kenneth BarkerBy:
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Westtown School Administration

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