When Hall County schools considers teacher applicants, anyone who is bilingual in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese “has a leg up,” Superintendent Will Schofield said, and that is the case in the business world, too.
Schools hear over and over from business and industry leaders that success is heavily dependent on certain characteristics. “Always in the top three or four” of those are to be “culturally and linguistically nimble,” Schofield said.
“We have kind of doubled down on those in the last decade,” he said, pointing to the increased emphasis on learning a second language.
The top languages sought after always include Spanish and Chinese, he said, and third and fourth are usually Portuguese and German.
The Hall County School District goal is to have 30 percent of its students get the “bilingual seal” on their diplomas by 2020.
Schofield said the district’s standard for being bilingual is “very different” than the state. He said the district’s expectation “has to do with performance tests,” students who can speak and write the language.
He readily admitted the 30 percent goal is a stretch, but he added, “we think it’ll give kids who go through the Hall County school system a unique advantage.” Georgia approved the bilingual seal for diplomas in May.
The school district started its World Language Academy about nine years ago — the first group of freshmen will start West Hall High School next week.
The academy now also offers immersion instruction in Mandarin Chinese, and West Hall High will have two courses this year taught in Spanish: world history and biology for the freshmen.
Principal Scott Justus said the school is in the “embryonic stage” and taking “baby steps” to build its World Scholars program, also new this year.
He said the school wants to continue the immersion aspect of language offered at the academy, which is an important part of the bilingual seal.
West Hall has had “up into our teens” of total students who have graduated in the past three years with the bilingual seal.
In 2017-18, he said the school plans to expand course offerings in content taught in Spanish to the freshman and sophomore classes.
As it grows, he said, “the choices (for students) are just going to be unbelievable.”
Schofield said this year will be the second year that Johnson High School has offered instruction in Portuguese.
Because the system “has such a wide offering of Spanish,” a number of students can learn Portuguese more quickly because of the similarities between the two.
In North Hall, five schools — the cluster including Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy, Mount Vernon Exploratory, Riverbend Elementary, North Hall middle and high schools — offer Mandarin Chinese.
He said he believes the county has the only P-12 instruction in that language in the state.