By Brenna R. Kelly
It would have been easy for Greg Roush to decide last school year that his high school could get by with one less world language teacher – or even one less world language.
After all, the new principal of Western Hills High School (Franklin County) was facing a budget cut and needed to trim somewhere.
“But I see the value in providing students the opportunity to learn another language,” Roush said. “It’s good rigor; it’s good academics. I felt like we had other areas we could cut that would make more sense.”
So the nearly 800-student school kept its two Spanish teachers and one French teacher.
It’s just one example of Roush’s dedication to Franklin County schools’ world language programs, a dedication which led him to being named the 2016 Kentucky World Language Association Administrator of the Year.
“I was humbled and honored,” said Roush, who is in his second year as principal of Western Hills after serving two years as Franklin County’s middle school director. “I didn’t feel like I did anything out of the ordinary. I just support my teachers and help them have the tools they need to do their jobs.”
That kind of administrative support is critical to world language programs, which often face challenges of sustainability and affordability, said Alfonso De Torres Núñez, the Kentucky Department of Education’s world language consultant. Those challenges sometimes result in schools discontinuing the programs, he said.
“They become expendable, especially during difficult economic times, despite extensive research which shows that learning a world language supports student achievement, provides cognitive benefits to students and can affect students’ attitudes and beliefs about other cultures,” he said.
In addition to simply keeping world languages in schools, administrators also have to make sure the programs focus on developing the abilities and skills that will allow students to be proficient and meet the Kentucky standard for World Languages Proficiency.
“It’s clear that without the support and leadership of an administrator, world language programs cannot be created, sustained or improved,” De Torres Núñez said.
Roush has not only sustained the world language program at Western Hills, but he also has supported the teachers in making program better, said Spanish teacher Rachel Medina, who nominated Roush for the award.
Teachers now meet with their counterparts at Franklin County High School in professional learning communities to improve instruction at both schools, she said. Roush also created a program to allow high school seniors in advanced world language classes to work with elementary school students who don’t have the same access to world language teachers.
“I’ve been in several districts and although all have been supportive, Mr. Roush has gone above the supports of the former administrators I’ve had,” Medina said.
Medina commended Roush for keeping both Spanish and French when faced with the budget cut. That allowed students to have a choice and kept class sizes manageable, she said.
“If they have that choice, it’s better for the students,” she said. “They want to be in that language class, they’re not being forced to. It’s better for the teacher too because the students picked that language over the other one.”
It also gives them an option to try out different languages, she said.
“If students failed one language, they can switch to the other one, and even though it may be the harder one, they will try. And the only way to get them to succeed is to get them to try. That’s the biggest thing, just try.”
Medina also praised Roush for helping the department chairperson with the Global Competency/World Language Program Review, including giving the chair time to upload the documents and the teachers time to work on collecting them.
“I’m probably one of the few principals that really has a passion for program reviews, I see the importance,” Roush said. “I see the importance of the arts. I see the importance of global competency. I see the importance of practical living.”
Too often, the reviews are seen as compliance, he said.
While working at the district office, Roush created an extensive review process for program reviews that included teams of administrators and teachers to provide feedback to the schools before the program reviews were submitted to KDE.
“I realized that the schools that did really well in our district had school buy-in, leadership support and every teacher was involved,” Roush said. The schools whose program reviews weren’t as good had often left work to one teacher to complete.
So when Roush became principal of Western Hills, he knew program reviews had to be a team effort. Roush revamped the School-Based Decision Making Council committees to include program reviews. Each committee, which includes a teacher from each department in the school, took on one program review. That way the program reviews are being worked on at the committee meetings once a month throughout the school year.
“That has worked really well and everyone is held accountable to be part of program reviews,” he said.
The program reviews help keep a spotlight on world languages and global competency, which might otherwise get lost to the subjects that are tested on state assessments, he said.
Knowing a world language and understanding other cultures will be critical for students as they enter the 21st century global workforce, he said. Roush recently experienced the importance firsthand when a group of students and teachers from Hong Kong visited a school in the district.
“These kids and these teachers came up and they spoke our language,” he said. “Most countries that are fluent are fluent in more than one language, except the United States. I really see the need for a least an exposure to another language.”
MORE INFO …
Greg Roush Greg.Roush@franklin.kyschools.us
Rachel Medina Rachel.Medina@Franklin.kyschools.us
Alfonso De Torres Núñez Alfonso.Detorresnunez@education.ky.gov