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Gelbmann says he favors Spanish Immersion expansion

District 833 School Board member Jim Gelbmann said he favors expansion of the district's Spanish Immersion program or, if a majority of fellow board members will not support expansion, the elimination of what he said is an unfair way to fill spots in the program.

Gelbmann's support for an expanded program concerns some neighborhood elementary school parents who fear their children's traditional school will be closed in order to grow the Spanish Immersion program.

Gelbmann's comments came in an e-mail response he sent Monday to a parent who fears her family's local elementary school will be closed to make way for a larger Spanish Immersion program.

Gelbmann is the first board member to publicly comment on three task force proposals to either keep the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion program as it is - in a shared facility with a traditional program at Crestview Elementary School - split the program between Crestview and Bailey elementary schools or shift students from either Woodbury, Armstrong, Royal Oaks or Crestview elementary schools to other buildings to make way for a school housing only Nuevas Fronteras.

The best option is to offer an expanded program in a single building, Gelbmann said, leading to an entire building for Nuevas Fronteras over time.

Gelbmann said he it would be "difficult" for him to support closing either Woodbury, Royal Oaks or Armstrong, but he would consider using Crestview solely for the Spanish Immersion program because that move would affect the fewest number of students. Of the four schools considered for an expanded Spanish Immersion program, Crestview has the lowest enrollment.

"However, I remain sympathetic to the adverse impact this option will have on students and families who are in the Crestview attendance boundary area but do not participate in the Spanish Immersion program," he wrote. "To be fair to these students and families, other options for expanding the Spanish Immersion program should also be given more consideration."

Splitting the program between two schools would have the least impact on students in traditional schools, Gelbmann said, and could be paid for with available district funds.

Gelbmann suggested two alternatives that were not considered by the task force. They include using the district's lease levy to add additional classrooms to Crestview or starting an expansion by adding two to three Spanish Immersion kindergarten classes in another school.

The board will take comments from the public at 6:30 p.m. tonight, Nov. 23, at Woodbury High School. Another meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29, at Park High School.

Parents, over the two weeks since the proposals were made public, have demonstrated their concern by e-mailing and calling school board members and speaking out against closing a traditional school. They also picketed to inform parents at Woodbury and Armstrong.

About 60 parents from the four schools met Monday night, Nov. 22, at Zion Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove to plan what they'll say to the board at the upcoming meetings.

Gelbmann, who told a parent that he'll attend the two public meetings with an open mind and will consider alternative points of view, served on the task force that drafted the Nuevas Fronteras proposals.

Spanish Immersion is an "exceptional program," Gelbmann said, and the best option for parents who want their children to be bilingual.

The program is for students who do not speak Spanish as their first language. Classes are taught in Spanish.

The current selection of incoming students to the program by lottery is unfair, Gelbmann said, and creates an "elitist" program for a few students.

Meeting the needs of parents who want their children to be in the program should be a high priority for the school board and additional busing cost could be paid from the district's $15 million fund balance, he wrote.

If the board doesn't support program expansion, the rule that gives preference to admitting siblings of children already in the program should be abolished, he said.

After sibling preference, there were 16 open slots for 44 admissions for this school year.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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