Saugus High School administrators have decided to discontinue the school’s Chinese-language program established 14 years ago, and some parents unhappy with the decision say they plan to speak up about it at the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board’s meeting Wednesday night.
“We have a single class teaching Chinese at Saugus High School,” Dave Caldwell, Hart District spokesman, said in an email Tuesday. “No other schools offer it. However, because (enrollment) numbers are low for the class, it will be discontinued after this school year.”
In a subsequent phone call, Caldwell cited “decreasing student interest” as the primary reason.
“A lot of parents and students, including myself, are very upset over this cancellation,” wrote Erwin Hermann, who said he had two daughters enrolled in the program, in an email to SCVNews Tuesday.
“There are going to be a number of parents and students…attending this school board meeting tomorrow to speak in protest to this decision,” Hermann wrote.
“This is a program that has enriched the lives of thousands of people and has been part of Saugus High School and its sister School GaoXin No. 1 High School in Xi’an, China for over a decade,” Hermann wrote. “Over 200 students have been exchanged between these two schools.”
While the Chinese program is not specifically on the meeting agenda, Saugus High School Principal Vince Ferry, who made the decision to end the program, is slated to make a presentation during the meeting outlining the school’s “goals and unique programs.”
It is likely, but not certain, the parents unhappy with Ferry’s decision will request to speak following his presentation.
The Chinese-language and cultural exchange program was set up at Saugus High in 2004 by Bill Bolde, then the school’s principal, and Patty Stephenson, then chair of the school’s Foreign Language Department.
“Fourteen years ago I was approached by then-Superintendent Bob Lee, who had gone on a Superintendent’s Academy to China and visited the school we ultimately created a cultural exchange arrangement with, GaoXin No. 1 High School in Xi’an, China,” Bolde said.
“He asked me if I’d be interested in starting a potential exchange program, and I said I was, but also knew that Patty Stephenson had long been an advocate for exchange programs with France because she was the French teacher,” he said.
“We ended up going to Brookline High School in Massachusetts in the Boston area and investigated a similar program that they have with the same school,” Bolde said. “We liked it so much that the next step for us was to visit the school in China, and before you knew it we had signed an agreement.
“Hundreds of students have gone back and forth over the Pacific Ocean over the last 14 years to become part of this cultural exchange and we’re very proud of what we accomplished with that program,” he said. “I know many of the families are extremely pleased with the positive results in what their students gained from being part of that.”
To help fund the cultural exchange after initial funding from the Hart District, Stephenson and a group of former host parents and parents of students who had traveled to China created the nonprofit Santa Clarita International Exchange.
However, efforts to expand the Chinese program into other Hart District schools were not fruitful.
“We tried to do our best to see if other schools would like to share the teacher to bring Chinese to their campuses and at the same time take advantage of some of the great aspects of the exchange,” Bolde said. “They were always interested in hearing about it, but I had never gotten a school that would say, ‘Yeah, count us in, we want to do that.'”
He said there hasn’t been any talk of discontinuing the exchange part of the program: “That has been going very popularly.”
Ferry, former principal at Rio Norte Junior High School, was named Saugus High’s new principal in May after Bolde announced his retirement earlier this year.
While Ferry was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon, Bolde said Ferry had “reached out and talked with me about it as well, so it’s not like they’re ending the program without gathering information.
“(He) has asked me and asked Patty Stephenson for all the information he could possibly get about the background and history, so he’s done his due diligence in trying to find out what has happened,” Bolde said. “Now he has to make a decision based on what he sees as best for the future of all the students at Saugus High School.
“In my deepest heart of hearts, I would like to see the Chinese program continue,” Bolde said. “But I’m also a realist and know how schools work, and I will certainly support what the administration does.”
The Board of Governors meeting will take place at the Hart District’s Administrative Center, 21380 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita 91350. The open session including Ferry’s presentation is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.