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Oswego School District 308 Approves New English Language Learner Program

Feb 24, 2015 10:29AM ● Published by Steven Jack

Dozens of supporters of District 308's Dual Language program crowded the Monday night School Board meeting. (Submitted photo)

Despite the impassioned pleas of Dual Language parents, students and teachers, the Oswego School District 308 School Board Monday night voted to replace the current English Language Learner program.

Before a packed board room and in a 4-3 vote, the board put into place what administrators say is a new one-way language immersion program for ELL students in the district. The program takes the place of the district’s troubled ELL program, which includes the 10-year-old DL program. 

Dual Language is a two-way immersion program that places native English speaking and Spanish speaking students in the same classes in an effort to make both sets of students bilingual. Classes are taught in both Spanish and English.

The new program will place Spanish speaking students in 50 percent English-, 50 percent Spanish-taught classes from kindergarten through eighth grade. Immersion classes for native English-speaking students will not be offered. 

Board members Bill Walsh, Greg O’Neil, Danielle Paul and Brent Lightfoot voted to move forward with the new program, while board members Alison Swanson, Matt Bauman and Mike McDowell voted against it. 

“Our focus is to make sure our students are productive in the United States when they graduate here,” Walsh said.. “… I am more focused on the native Spanish speakers and making sure they are proficient … versus the native English speaking students learning a second language, which is a very small group.”

Bauman, who has a child in the Dual Language program, said information provided by the administration last April shows that the native Spanish-speaking students within DL academically outperform their peers not in the program. That, he said, is evidence that the program should be expanded rather than dismantled. 

“If (that information) is true, then we should emulate whatever is working for their success,” Bauman said.”Something is working. It’s not completely broken. Why can’t the administration bring to us what is making these students successful?”

Before the board discussion and vote, several parents, students and teachers within DL pleaded with the board not to dissolve it. Speaking on behalf of Dual Language teachers in the district, teacher Toni Morgan said many of her colleagues have left tenured positions in other districts to teach in District 308’s “fresh and innovative” program.

“We know that Dual Language is the best model, proven by substantial amounts of research for teaching English to English learners,” she said. “…  A blended classroom truly provides the most opportunity for our students to make academic progress and to be integrated into our community. Any other option, including one-way immersion, would be a step in the wrong direction. … Please listen to the voice of the teachers in the program that see the progress and problems everyday.”

Parent Lori Vancura said the district's proposal to move all ELL students to select buildings in the district amounted to segregation, and is an "(abject) failure in education." Vancura also brought a globe to the public comment table, saying that Spanish is spoken in 24 countries around the world.

"What other language can you teach children to be proficient in where they might be able to travel all over the world?" she asked. 

While the majority of parents who spoke during public comment were in favor of keeping the program, others said the district needs to first focus on teaching English to students. 

“I’ve had to write a check for several thousands of dollars (for outside instruction) just to to bring my son up to grade level with basic reading writing and arithmetic,” said parent Kevin Jackson. “… I think we need our kids to meet the minimum standards for succeeding in the world before we move on to dual language or provide dual language for all.”

Before voting no on the new ELL program, board members Mike McDowell and Alison Swanson, who both sit on the board’s teaching and learning committee, said they plan to closely watch and to hold administrators accountable during a transition period that will be required to move forward. 

After the vote, several upset parents who were leaving the meeting shouted “April 7” at board members in reference to the upcoming election. Board member Danielle Paul then urged Oswego Police officers on hand for the meeting to escort the crowd out of the board room. 



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