CHAPEL HILL-The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board on Thursday backed away from a proposal to covert an existing elementary to a new dual language magnet in time for the start of the 2014 school year.
“I am not interested in doing something super major by 2014. I think our communities will not support that and I can’t support that,” said Board Chair Shell Brownstein.
More than 100 parents turned out to protest both the plan and the timing, as many said they learned of the proposal only four days prior to Thursday’s school board meeting.
The majority of the 40 speakers pleaded with the school board to reconsider separating the traditional and Spanish dual language students at Carrboro Elementary.
“That’s what this program is supposed to do, integrating our community. It is working,” said Charlie Wiss, father of two at the school. “Why would you want to dismantle that? I really don’t know.”
Although no school was named as a potential site for a new magnet school, Carrboro parents fear the plan to combine Mandarin and Spanish dual language classrooms together at one magnet school would pull apart Carrboro Elementary, where currently half the students are enrolled in the Spanish dual language program.
Many parents expressed frustration that school officials would consider such a sweeping change less than a year after both wide-spread redistricting and the conversion of Frank Porter Graham into the district’s first magnet.
Carrboro Alderman Jacqueline Gist said she’s so strongly opposed to the plan that she was moved to address the school board in public for the first time in her twenty-four years as an elected official.
“On behalf of our community, for economic development reasons, for the good of our children and for the walkability of our community, please do not take our children away from our school,” said Gist.
Alderman Sammy Slade also addressed the school board, alternating between English and Spanish. Both Aldermen said Carrboro leaders would likely vote next week to formally oppose the plan.
This latest dual language debate was sparked by the need to address overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary, home of the district’s Mandarin Chinese dual language program.
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said increased enrollment in the Mandarin program combined with growth in the school’s attendance zone put the district’s smallest school nearly 100 students over capacity this year, with that number expected to rise in coming years.
***Listen to LoFrese’s presentation***
And while spot-redistricting for Glenwood may be a short-term solution, LoFrese said the school board needs to develop a comprehensive, long-range plan for the future of the Mandarin program.
“A plan for Mandarin dual language is needed really before proceeding with the movement of any students,” said LoFrese.
He suggested that slowing the expansion of the program might be the best choice for the district at this time.
“I kind of feel like we may have had horse blinders on as we’ve tried to get the Mandarin expansion to fit,” said LoFrese. “And so I question whether the lens needs to be broader and consider whether we really should be trying to develop solutions to facilitate an expansion at this time, at the expense of disruption to the district.”
Some school board members were hesitant to embrace the idea of a slow-down, having voted in 2012 to expand the program and more recently to add an additional dual language classroom at Glenwood.
Board member James Barrett explained the latest expansion: “There was a unique opportunity to add a single class because of a wonderful teacher who could teach both [languages]. That was a unique opportunity. We took advantage of it and started this class earlier than we had originally planned to.”
Though no vote was taken, the majority of the board indicated a preference for spot-redistricting to temporarily relieve overcrowding at Glenwood while officials explore other options and look to create a broader plan for the dual language program.
Superintendent Tom Forcella said that ultimately, changes to the dual language program could impact the district as a whole.
“I understand the concern from the people from Carrboro, but you have to understand that, as this conversation evolves, it is not just including Carrboro, it’s Seawell, it’s Rashkis, it’s FPG and it’s Northside as we get deeper into the weeds of what the ramifications could be,” said Forcella.
Currently, the school board has no timeline for a decision on spot-redistricting, the magnet plan, or other proposals. Administrators will return with recommendations for the board in the near future.