Spanish Immersion proposals roil some parentsSome parents at an area school are afraid their children will lose their neighborhood school to a growing Spanish-language Immersion program.
By: Judy Spooner, Woodbury Bulletin
Some parents at an area school are afraid their children will lose their neighborhood school to a growing Spanish-language Immersion program.
And there are similar concerns from parents at three other District 833 elementary schools which could be affected by proposals to expand the Spanish Immersion program. They worry their children will have to move to another school.
Concerned parents say they support “choice” programs such as Spanish Immersion.
“It answers the needs for those parents,” said Amy Steinke, a parent of children at Crestview Elementary in Cottage Grove. “But Spanish Immersion doesn’t understand that their growing would be a detriment to other students.”
A district task force offered recommendations to the School Board on how to address the growing Spanish Immersion program, also known as Nuevas Fronteras. Parents of students who were stuck on a waiting list for Nuevas Fronteras had sought to add classes to the K-5 program.
The district has planned two public meetings – Nov. 23 and Nov. 30 – to gather input on the proposals. Concerned parents also are expected to attend the regular School Board meeting Nov. 18, even though the Spanish Immersion issue is not on the agenda.
Nuevas Fronteras is not for students already fluent in Spanish. Instead, classes are taught in Spanish for children whose parents want them to be bilingual.
The School Board is considering a few options, which includes leaving Nuevas Fronteras as it is, a program that shares space with traditional classes at Crestview Elementary. It is estimated to cost about $280,000 next year, assuming current enrollment. Other options include splitting the program between Crestview and Bailey elementary schools, which is estimated to cost $690,000 annually, or moving students out of Crestview, Woodbury, Royal Oaks or Armstrong elementary schools to make way for a free-standing Spanish Immersion school.
District officials have not advocated for any one proposal, but Crestview parents fear the third option. They suspect that in spite of the upcoming public meetings it is a done deal that their children will be moved to Cottage Grove or Grey Cloud elementary schools.
Students subject to ‘uncertainty’
Crestview became a shared facility in the 2007-08 school year with 300 students in traditional classes. There are currently 362 Spanish Immersion students.
Armstrong has 390 students, Woodbury has 482 and Royal Oaks 484.
Crestview Principal Rich Romano said the traditional program and Nuevas Fronteras have lived with uncertainty as they enter their fourth year in a shared facility.
Staff members, teachers and students’ families need to know what the future will be so they can move on, he said in an interview.
“We continue to focus on the kids who are here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which program they are in or where they come from. They shouldn’t be subjected to uncertainty.”
Charlie Ligtenberg is convinced Crestview will be picked for a move.
“We don’t have the numbers,” she said.
This is also the second time Spanish Immersion parents have proposed expanding the program. Crestview is full, parents said. It’s hard to live with the possibility expansion proposals will be brought up again in the future if not now, parents said.
“The board should stop, make a decision, and stand by it,” Ligtenberg said.
Parents like Steinke, Shi Zako and Ann Marie Velento agree with Ligtenberg and said they have talked to parents and officers in parent organizations at the other three schools. Parents at those schools are worried about the future of their neighborhood elementary, too.
Jennifer Hays has three children at Woodbury Elementary School.
“There’s so many issues here,” she said of the Spanish Immersion proposals. “The biggest issue is whether there is a true demand for more immersion classes. They want to uproot a whole school? I don’t want this to happen to any school, not just Woodbury Elementary.”
Hays said the district established new attendance-area boundaries two years ago. Her children walk to school and she is not prepared to face a change that would involve busing them to another school.
“I wanted my kids to walk to school,” Hays said. “That’s why we bought a house in this neighborhood. The whole district would be affected.”
Hays said she understands the educational value of language immersion programs from reading about it. She understands why parents want their children to be bilingual, but prefers her children to be in traditional classes.
Kim Neuman of Cottage Grove enrolled her seven-year-old son at Woodbury Elementary because she thought the special education classes there would be best for him. But she is very concerned he might be sent to another school if the School Board decides to move the school’s 480 students to other schools to make way for Nuevas Fronteras.
Neuman said board members did not consider the effect of changing schools, and possibly teachers, on special education students. “They didn’t think about those kids,” she said. “What’s going to happen to them? This is so upsetting.”
Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Dave Bernhardson and Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations, said the cost of a stand-alone school would be the same as the cost of keeping the school at Crestview. Splitting the program between two schools would cost nearly twice as much due to duplicate administration and curriculum costs.
Crestview parents question the administration’s estimate that the program in a freestanding school will cost the same as what currently exists at Crestview.
More buses would be needed if the program is expanded, they said, with longer routes because students are bused from around the district and not just within the attendance boundary.
Currently, there are two buses for students in the traditional program. The rest walk to and from the surrounding neighborhood. If moved to other schools, all the children would need bussing, said the parents.
“As a taxpayer, that is unacceptable to me,” Steinke said.