Our View: District should start over on Spanish Immersion planSchool District 833 has a popular Spanish Immersion program with more demand than space available.
School District 833 has a popular Spanish Immersion program with more demand than space available. There are parents who believe strongly that the district should expand Nuevas Fronteras, as the program is known, and give it a standalone facility.
The district also includes families who have deep connections to their traditional elementary schools. They were exasperated by a recent district proposal to move students from one of four neighborhood elementary schools in order to give Nuevas Fronteras its own larger space.
That much was abundantly clear in recent weeks as the public weighed in on a district task force’s recommendations for the future of Nuevas Fronteras. The community discussion was tense, emotionally charged and personal. It prompted online petitions, sidewalk picketing and meetings attended by hundreds of people.
It also was unnecessarily divisive.
School Board members made the right decision at a Dec. 2 workshop when they said they do not plan to vote on the task force’s recommendations later this month, likely blocking any large-scale expansion of the program for next fall.
Remember, a task force offered three options for the Spanish Immersion program: maintain the current operation in shared space at Crestview Elementary; split the immersion program between Crestview Elementary and Bailey Elementary School; or move traditional-program students from either Crestview Elementary, Woodbury Elementary, Armstrong Elementary or Royal Oaks Elementary to give Nuevas Fronteras its own building.
The choice program serves children who speak English but want to become fluent in Spanish and take classes taught in a second language. There are roughly 340 kids in grades K-5, who could proceed to a modified immersion program in middle school.
The question of whether and how Nuevas Fronteras should expand deserves more study. Families who are on a waiting list to get into the Spanish Immersion program may not want another delay, but a controversial decision on the heels of a contentious debate serves nobody well in the long run.
Looking forward, it was a bit troubling to hear some School Board members suggest that the same task force that developed the last set of expansion proposals should regroup and seek for a better solution.
After all, that 10-member task force included only two non-school district employees – a source of frustration for both Spanish Immersion parents and parents whose neighborhood elementary schools were suggested for possible closure.
In the interest of moving beyond division created by the last task force process, and of developing a sound long-term plan for the Spanish Immersion program, the School Board should develop a new process for charting the future of Nuevas Fronteras.
A more inclusive task force would be a good start. It should include district administrators and School Board representatives, but also ought to include parents involved with Spanish Immersion as well as to those who are not part of the program. Further, it should not be limited to just those groups. For instance, is there an expert on immersion programs who could serve on a new task force, or at least advise the district?
A new task force should work over the next year to address both the short-term demand for the Spanish Immersion program and the need for a long-term plan for the program. It should report to the School Board on its progress throughout the process.
Most importantly, the School Board, hopefully having learned from a flawed process, should actively seek public input from the outset as it develops a vision for Spanish Immersion that will benefit immersion and non-immersion students.