Teachers and parents told the D21 school board Jan. 15 a proposed dual language immersion program was a good idea whose time has not yet come.
Still needed, they said, was more communication with both staff and the community.
Joel Vaught, a Colonel Wright parent whose spouse is an educator there, said adding a dual immersion program is as long lasting a change to the district as the district’s facilities planning process.
Vaught said the North Wasco County School District 21’s ongoing facilities planning process has been “open, honest and collaborative,” and the public has been invited to participate because the community has a stake in it.
In contrast, he said, the dual language immersion (DLI) process has been “secretive, closed and exclusive.”
He said several Colonel Wright staff asked to be involved and were told no. “Those pushing this DLI implementation do not seem to have the same idea that the entire community has a stake in this process.”
The D21 board itself was also critical of the planning process for the program. (See related story.)
Each elementary is a community school, Vaught said, and adding a dual immersion program to one of them would represent “a fundamental shift in the way we onboard kids into our education system.”
A year ago the school board authorized staff to prepare for establishing a dual language immersion program, which would start at one school at the kindergarten level and then expand one grade level each year as the students progressed through school. Students would be chosen by lottery for the program, which would have 50 percent native Spanish speakers and 50 percent non-native Spanish speakers. The classes would be taught 90 percent in Spanish initially, and by fourth grade, would be equally in English and Spanish.
The proposal is to start it next fall, at a school yet to be determined (although Colonel Wright teachers heard a rumor last fall that the program could go at their school).
District Superintendent Candy Armstrong said the location of the program had not been decided yet. The current timeline calls for that decision to come by Feb. 27.
Vaught said he didn’t think the dual language program was a bad idea. He said it could be a “gold star” for the community if implemented thoughtfully with an understanding of community needs.
He said staff and community engagement was needed to get buy-in and support. Instead, the dual language committee “has sown seeds of discord, distrust and disrespect with those most deeply affected by this change.”
He said “the fruits of this labor will most certainly yield disenfranchised staff and underserved students.”
He encouraged the school board to slow the process down, publicly present the problems that need to be addressed and the solutions for them, and to do so in a way that fosters community engagement and full transparency.
Deocelen Munoz, an English Language Learner (ELL) assistant at Colonel Wright, said at a recent state conference for dual language programs she got to see non-native Spanish speaking students read, speak and have a conversation in Spanish. “It was amazing,” she said. “I do feel that the kids of D21 will benefit from such a great program.”
She talked to a principal with a program at her school, and she said getting it started was a lot of work, including informing parents about how the program would benefit students, and staff meetings to help teachers have an easier transition.
Munoz said when Trost Elementary in Canby first implemented dual language it didn’t work, and they tried again the next year and it was a success.
A teacher from Gresham told her the same thing: they also didn’t have success the first time they started the program, and they had to get the community involved to have a successful start.
Munoz said she talked to people from three different schools who implemented dual language immersion programs, and all three had commonalities: “They talked to the community, they had staff meetings, they went door to door to speak to both parents, both Spanish and non-Spanish, they understood and acknowledged the teachers’ feelings.”
She said all the dual language teachers she saw were native Spanish speakers with years of teaching experience. She said that only after the committees at those schools had talked to the community and teaching staff did they go to their school boards with implementation plans.
She asked if the D21 committee had talked to the community in depth about the pros and cons of having the program. “Have they explained to all three elementary schools how much this program will impact all the elementary school communities? Do they have qualified teachers and assistants with experience lined up? Not just for this year, but for the following years?”
“We need to have an open communication for this to work,” Munoz said. “If we rush, and we don’t stop and think and plan as a team, this will not work.”
She said it didn’t matter where the program was housed, what mattered was “are we ready to start, to have a successful DLI program in our district?”
Chenowith Elementary teacher Mary Tyree told the board, “While I see the point of a DLI program I can tell you we are not ready and you can’t afford it! We also get a new superintendent in seven months who may feel getting a balanced budget would be the priority.”
She said before thinking of housing the dual language program at Chenowith, “Can we get a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) please! We have chronic absenteeism, high trauma, high poverty and we have already been in turmoil for three years going on four.”
Teachers at Colonel Wright spoke to the school board last month, saying Chenowith made the most sense to house the dual language program because the school has by far the most native Spanish speakers. It has more than 50 percent native Spanish speakers, more than twice the rate of the other two elementaries, a teacher said earlier.