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Decatur Superintendent David Dude defends trip to Costa Rica to learn Spanish

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Decatur Superintendent David Dude defends trip to Costa Rica to learn Spanish

Superintendent David Dude

Decatur Superintendent David Dude will be in Costa Rica until Feb. 16 as part of a Spanish immersion program.

The three-week program started Jan. 29. Dude said he’s on the trip to see if the program would be beneficial for City Schools of Decatur teachers.

But the trip is raising some eyebrows in part due to CSD’s recent decision to cut Spanish language instruction from 120 minutes a week to 90 minutes a week.

Dude defended the trip in a blog post and in a phone interview with Decaturish. He said the trip is part of “exploring the possibility of doing a Spanish immersion program in Decatur.”

“One of the things I hope to happen, based on the experience, is getting more of our staff out here and going through this program because it’s ridiculously inexpensive, and a way to get them exposed to Spanish very quickly,” he said.

School Board Chair Lewis Jones said the cost of the trip, which CSD is paying for, is $1,740 for the program – which includes room and board – and $936 for airfare. He said the trip did not require approval by the school board, but he said Dude informed them about his plans and the board supported him.

“I would think that the people interested in the Spanish program would be very supportive,” Jones said. “The whole point is to explore this and to see what we can do in Decatur. Part of the effort is to improve what we’re doing in world languages.”

But there’s been grumbling, much of it anonymous, about the optics of the superintendent taking a trip after the school system cut back on Spanish instruction. One teacher, who would only speak anonymously, said that the trip is a hot topic among CSD staff and parents. The teacher questioned the timing of the trip – leaving CSD for three weeks in the middle of the school year – and said Dude has only begun communicating about it with the wider community in response to the criticism.

“They cut funding on the Spanish immersion program last year,” the teacher said. “In a lot of ways, he’s looking at ways to justify this trip. He’s trying to pick up the pieces now after he realizes there’s criticism.”

Dude told CSD’s elementary Spanish teachers about the trip by sending them a letter before he left. In his letter, he said, “I am looking forward to this immersion program which will provide me with an improved understanding of the Spanish language and Spanish instruction, while also exposing me to the benefits and challenges of immersion as an instructional approach. While in Costa Rica, I also hope to build partnerships with some schools around San José, allowing for future collaboration among teachers, students, and administrators.”

Decaturish began asking questions about the trip on Feb. 1. On Feb. 2, Dude made a post on his professional blog explaining the trip to parents.

“I’ve been in Decatur long enough to know that there are some who will think this is not a wise use of time and money, that I’m just on vacation, and other such things,” Dude wrote. “I appreciate those opinions but respectfully disagree. While others may enjoy time away from their families, I am not one of those people. I would much prefer to be home playing with my kids.

“Also, I made sure to structure my experience such that learning Spanish and immersion methods are my sole focus. I’m at school 10 hours a day and at ‘home’ (with a local family) studying or sleeping the remaining hours. (While I really hope to return someday to see this beautiful country, that will have to be in the future.) Naturally, financial matters are always a consideration as well, so the unbelievably low cost of this program was quite welcome; $570/week covers my classes at the school, my lodging with a local family, and two meals a day. Yes, you’re reading that right: the entire three weeks is only $1,710 (total) for room, board, and classes. That incredibly low cost makes this a very viable option for sending small groups of staff in the future. I know most will understand the value of this endeavor, but for those who question it, I hope this information can put your mind at ease.”

Dude said in his phone interview that most of the teachers he has spoken with have been supportive. He is keeping a blog about his experiences and is taking questions from CSD students.

Dude said contrary to what other people might assume, this time of the year is one of the least busy for him. The trip is taking place before the school system’s budget and hiring season, which require much more of his attention.

“This worked out very well,” he said. “I only had to miss one board meeting.”

So, how is the weather in Costa Rica?

“It’s pretty nice,” Dude said. “It’s very windy, non-stop all day. Temperature is very pleasant, 70 degrees, sunny, rain and mist.”