Longtime Astoria High School foreign language teacher Janet Bowler has been restructured out of a job.

Several months ago, she was told by administrators that French and German will no longer be a part of the high school's curriculum. So she packed her bags and is reluctantly retiring.

And that means when school begins this fall, students will no longer have the opportunity to study either of these languages. Nor will they have the luxury of learning from arguably one of the school's best, most demanding teachers.

This is a sign of the times, especially in Oregon public schools, where top programs aimed at the best and brightest are being axed to accommodate bare bones budgets and an increasing emphasis on the average.

That's what happens when there's no money left. Eventually all you get is a thin gruel that is supposed to sustain the academic appetites of each and every student - both the ambitious and the barely there.

But the Astoria School District is making a big mistake in getting rid of Janet Bowler, a 28-year veteran, whose passion for teaching, her students and her subject matter makes her a standout educator.

I spent three years in Bowler's German classes in the mid 1980s, and when I eventually traveled to that country, I not only was able to speak passable conversational German, I also better understood my place in the world.

Several of my friends who had her as a teacher went on to study and, in many cases, major in foreign languages at the university level. My sister, Chloe Swain, who graduated from Astoria High School in 1993, majored in German at the University of Oregon. My friend, Angela Parson, class valedictorian in 1986, majored in French.

This is testament, at least in part, to a powerful, if not always universally popular, teacher. Janet Bowler expected the best out of her students. Her classroom was a fun, colorful place, filled with posters and photos.

But it also was a place for serious learning. Students studied the nuances of grammar and word order as well as the proper way to say some of the most vexingly unpronounceable foreign phrases.

Students, in other words, did not get to pass Mrs. Bowler's classes simply by showing up. The same could not be said for many of the classes I took while at Astoria High School, a place that boasted just one Advanced Placement English class and no honors curriculum at the time I attended.

And now, instead of lauding all that Janet Bowler has done, instead of begging her to stay and share her talents for a few more years, she is getting what amounts to a pink slip. Certainly, students will be able to take Spanish classes. And yes, there are plenty of Spanish-speakers to make that a worthwhile endeavor.

But throwing out one of the school's most talented teachers deserves an F. Let's hope the public pays attention this time and doesn't give the school district's administration a passing grade for blindly trimming budgets at the expense of academic excellence.

Marina Swain Parr

Astoria High School class of 1987

Oak Harbor, Wash.


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