CHCCS Board Votes To Expand Mandarin Program

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board voted 6-1 Thursday to expand the Mandarin dual language program at Glenwood Elementary and keep access to the program open to all students in the district via a lottery system.

Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs said the value of dual language education extends beyond the local community.

“I consider it a gift to the country, frankly, to have bilingual and multilingual children, particularly in Mandarin,” said Burroughs.

The vote means 76 families at Glenwood will need to be redistricted to alleviate overcrowding due to growth in the dual language program and increased enrollment in the school’s attendance zone.

More than 100 parents turned out Thursday night to ask the school board to put to rest the recent uncertainty about the future of the Mandarin program, but parents differed widely on what they saw as the best solution.

Those with students in the program touted the merit of dual language education. Pam Caswell told the school board the program has changed the way her son approaches learning.

“There is a rumor that it serves only the 156 most high-achieving students, and I am here to tell you different,” said Caswell. “My son did not enter Glenwood above average. He has become high-achieving because of the daily effort we put into his studies.”

But parents outside the program argued it costs too much and serves too few. Heather Kunmick labeled it an unnecessary expense in a tight budget year.

“When I’m sending in hundreds and hundreds of dollars of supplies because in October teachers are out of copy paper and my daughter’s art class doesn’t have enough pencils or erasers and my child’s kindergarten class doesn’t have glue sticks, how can we continue to pour money into something that serves such a small percentage of the population?” asked Kunmick.

School board members cautioned against singling out any one program for cuts, and reiterated their support for expanding Mandarin dual language instruction, saying expansion of the program will lower per-pupil expenses.

“The reason we expanded it is not only do we think this a really important program, it’s to bring the cost down,” said Burroughs. “We need to make the program load-bearing, to fill those classrooms so there aren’t extra-small classrooms in fourth and fifth grade.”

But the board wrestled with how and where the program should grow. In the long term, the district could open a new dual language magnet that would house the Mandarin program, but for now, any expansion of the program means non-dual language learners will need to be redistricted to make room for new Mandarin students.

Board members also struggled with the purpose of the program, noting that it’s evolved from instruction to help those with limited English to more of an immersion program for English-speaking students. Annetta Streater said it’s not fulfilling its original purpose.

“I am very much disappointed that what was meant to be a support for students who are not native English speakers is no longer that,” said Streater. “So that brings up another concern- are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing to support students who actually do need consistent instruction and intervention to acquire English?”

The board voted 6-1 to redistrict 76 non-dual language families and add a second first grade classroom to the Mandarin program, which will remain at Glenwood for at least the next year.

Though spot-redistricting offers a short-term solution to temporarily ease Glenwood’s overcrowding, there’s no clear consensus on what to do with the Mandarin program in the future. Board members agreed to hire a consultant to examine the long-term options, with an eye toward implementing a solution by 2015.

Forcella: No Decision Yet For CHCCS Mandarin Program

CHAPEL HILL- Although it was not on the agenda, Superintendent Tom Forcella took a moment at Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board meeting to address the controversy surrounding overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary and the fate of the Mandarin Chinese dual language program that operates at that school.

Forcella stressed that no decision has yet been made on how to address overcrowding at Glenwood.

“There hasn’t been a decision made by the board,” said Forcella. “Obviously public input is always welcome, but during the process, sometimes things are said- that doesn‘t mean that’s going to happen.”

***Listen to Forcella’s full statement***

Forcella on Mandarin dual language and Glenwood overcrowding

Glenwood Elementary is 90 students over capacity this year, due in part to a move to expand the Mandarin program, but also because of higher-than-predicted enrollment in the school’s attendance zone.

Some suggestions put forward by administrators include spot-redistricting, creating a new dual-language magnet to house the Mandarin program, moving the program to a larger school, or halting the program’s expansion.

Critics say the program serves a small number of students at a high cost to the district. They worry efforts to preserve or expand the program will cause disruption throughout the school system. Forcella said that’s not the case.

“It is our intent to address the issue; the issue is anticipated overcrowding at Glenwood,” said Forcella. “It is not out intent to try to create a major disruption to the entire school district.”

He pointed out that the school board voted last year to expand the Mandarin program earlier than originally planned. Though he called that a show of support for the program, he noted that the district’s budget crisis means every program will be up for review this spring.

“It’s important to note that we are in one of the most difficult budget situations that we have been in for a very, very, long time,” said Forcella.

About thirty parents came out to hear his comments, wearing red to show their support for the Mandarin program. Joe Kennedy is the parent of three dual language students. He said ongoing controversy about the long-term future of the program is unsettling for families and he urged the school board to make their intentions clear.

“Reaffirm, publically, your commitment to our program,” said Kennedy. “I understand that everything has to be up for review, but having been with this program from the beginning, there is a real cost to signals about going back and forth. I mean, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

School officials have a deadline of February 1 to decide. The school board will discuss overcrowding at Glenwood and the future of the Mandarin program at its next meeting on January 16. That meeting will take place at East Chapel Hill High to accommodate what’s likely to be a large crowd.

CHCCS Parents Pan New Dual Language Magnet Plan

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***

CHCCS Mandarin Dual Language 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.