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District 308 Dual Language Parents Fighting to Keep Program Alive

May 28, 2014 02:42PM ● Published by Steven Jack

Dozens of Dual Language parents and students crowded the School Board meeting Tuesday night in a show of support for the program. Photo Courtesy of Maureen Sanchez

The way parents of the 360 students in Oswego District 308’s popular Dual Language program see it, they’re are in a battle for its very existence. 

The program just ended its ninth year and typically has a waiting list of hundreds to gain entry. It places native Spanish and English students together in a language immersion learning environment at Hunt Club Elementary and Plank Junior High schools, and recently has come into question by members of the district’s administration and the School Board. 

Parents say those questions and data used to answer them are being skewed to dismantle a program that is politically unpopular among the board.

“We feel like the board thinks this is a done deal,” said parent Tina Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for World Class 308 — a group formed to help educate the community about District 308 language programs. “We’re being told (by administrators) that this isn’t popular here and that everyone is against it.”

The future of the program came to a head at the April 28 School Board meeting at which administrators presented to the Board the results of a 2012 State Board of Education audit of the English Language Learner program of which Dual Language is a part. 

The audit revealed the ELL program to be out of compliance with state standards and placed 19 sanctions against the district. While 16 of those sanctions were resolved by July 2013, three issues still remain.

According to administrators, the audit revealed the Dual Language program also to be out of compliance due to academic performance. Administrators recommended shifting the classroom model to more address the academic needs of the Native Spanish speakers in the program.

Parents flooded the May 12 School Board meeting in hopes of correcting what they see as flawed academic performance data and how it was previously presented. More than 100 parents returned again Tuesday night to again address the board regarding the program’s future.

School Board member Matt Bauman has a special stake in Dual Language. His daughter is a kindergartener in the program. He said data presented by the administration and interpreted differently by parents can “be used to advance the cause at hand.”

“The administration presented data to the board, and a group of dual language parents used the same data in a different light,” he said. “The  data that I use is the data the comes home in my daughters backpack, and she is doing exceptional in the program. … Hopefully the board will receive more data, which I would like to see interpreted from someone at the State Board of Education.”

Parent Maureen Sanchez has a daughter scheduled to start the program this fall at Hunt Club. She said she feels like parents have been left out of the decision-making process.

“There isn't any information available about this matter,” she said. “I feel like I'm being stonewalled, information is being withheld …” “Why is the program in danger? What options are available for parents to help save this program?”

The board is set to hear ELL program recommendations from administrators at its June 9 meeting. Gonzalez said she believes that meeting will be a lead-up to a final vote to take apart Dual Language at the following board meeting later in June. 

Contacted Wednesday morning, Board President Bill Walsh said there is no “up or down” vote planned for the future of Dual Language.

“Never has it been said that this program will be voted up or down,” he said. “… I think the board wants to do its due diligence and go forward with a recommendation.”

Walsh also said it’s his duty to consider the entire district and its finances when studying individual programs.

“We are responsible for 17,500 students in this district. We have to consider them, and that’s how decisions should be made,” he said.

Annually, the Dual Language program costs about $1.1 million to operate, according to district documents. The bulk of those costs go to paying 15 teacher salaries and busing students to Hunt Club and Plank. Gonzalez said cutting the program won’t save the district money.

“Just because you cut the program, doesn’t mean you cut our kids. Our students will still need to be taught by teachers in the district.”

For his part, Bauman said he’d be happy to share costs with the district if the program is facing the axe due to finances. 

“If it comes down to cost, I would be happy to share a program fee, or transportation charge with the district. We have to explore that option if we blame cost to the future of the program.”

What will happen for the 2014-15 school year remains unclear at this point. Three of the junior high teachers in the program left the district at the end of this school year, and the positions have yet to be filled. Beyond that, administrators have recommended that all ELL students return to their home schools in the 2015-16 school year.

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Education, Today, News oswego school district 308 dual language world class 308

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