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Future Spanish Immersion expansion still possible

Superintendent Mark Porter said there will be no expansion of the Spanish Immersion language program for 2011-12, but District 833 is still considering expansion for the following year.

The immersion school will remain next year in a shared facility with traditional classes at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove.

Porter's announcement at a Dec. 16 School Board meeting, without a formal vote from the board, comes after a month of negative reactions from parents at four elementary schools to one of three proposals by a district task force that explored Spanish Immersion expansion. One task force proposal would have transferred students in a traditional elementary school to other elementary schools in order to create a freestanding immersion program.

Board members initially planned to vote on the task force options last week, but earlier this month rejected the recommendations.

The Nuevas Fronteras immersion school is for students who speak English but want to be bilingual. Classes are taught in Spanish.

District plans

The oldest class of immersion students is now in sixth-grade at Cottage Grove Middle School, where they take social studies taught in Spanish and a Spanish language class.

Porter said there will be a partial immersion program for the students when they enter seventh-grade next year.

For the 2012-13 school year, the district will look for space outside the district to expand the elementary school immersion program. "If there is money and if we can find that solution," Porter said.

Porter said Crestview and Nuevas Fronteras Principal Rich Romano deserved much credit for the way he's managed the two schools.

Still, Porter said he will spend time at Crestview talking with parents in both programs to "personally assist in healing" the rift and overcome hard feelings expressed during public meetings on immersion expansion.

The administration will also begin planning for a partial immersion program at Woodbury High School when the oldest class of immersion students reaches ninth grade.

There was no formal action Dec. 16, but board members raised several issues related to the immersion program.

Board member Marsha Adou asked the administration to give School Board timelines on possible expansion and a high school program.

Board members Ron Kath and Tracy Brunnette asked that Spanish Immersion and other "choice programs" to be included in next year's strategic plan discussions about the future of the district.

Board member David Kemper, who has one child in the immersion program, wondered why the first-come-first-served registration policy had been changed to a lottery.

Porter said parents were camped overnight in the District Service Center parking lot. That system was unfair, he said, if parents could not get in line because of their jobs.

Mixed reaction

The latest request to expand the immersion school, started in 2004, came from parents whose children did not get admitted for this year. With the district's rule allowing sibling preference for Nuevas Fronteras enrollment, there were only 16 open slots last fall out of 60 total.

Board member Jim Gelbmann asked if one or two more children could be admitted to next year's kindergarten class.

After the Dec. 16 meeting, Susan Kent, president of the Nuevas Fronteras parent student association, said parents, who were critical of the board for not having a plan for high school immersion, are grateful that it's finally being addressed.

If not, Kent said, the District 833 immersion school would be the only one in the state without a high school program.

The status of the Spanish Immersion program still concerns parents of students in traditional classes at Crestview Elementary.

A group of those Crestview parents attended the Dec. 16 meeting and said they were not reassured by Porter's announcement.

After five requests to expand the Spanish Immersion program over several years, Crestview Elementary parent Amy Steinke said she believes the school will still be the focus of future attempts to move kids out of Crestview to make room for a larger Spanish Immersion program.

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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